By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Looming in the doorway, a big, helmeted man rushes into the apartment. The owner, a thin, wiry 78-year-old Japanese American man, backpedals until he can try to reason with him. But the intruder gets right up in his face. The larger, hulking man is like a tank. He swarms over the smaller man. In his rage, he head butts him, hard, with his helmet. When the older man tries to stand up again, the intruder swings a heavy blow right into the side of his head.
“Can’t you see enough out of your tight eyes,” the intruder yells.
Gordon Shoji, the older man who was attacked in his apartment, has been frustrated that it seemed to take the Seattle Police Department (SPD) six weeks to arrest the suspected assailant, Effendi Dean. On June 28, SPD arrested Dean, who is being held on $150,000 bail. Not until Shoji shared a video he had secretly taken of the May 14 assault with an ex-police officer, who Shoji thinks may have sent it to the SPD, did there appear to be any action on the case.
According to Shoji, it was only then that they sought Dean at the pot shop where he works.
“They told me he’d gone to Las Vegas,” said Shoji in an interview, the day before the arrest.
SPD Det. Patrick Michaud responded to numerous questions rapidly.
“Officers responded to this case in the same way they always do. Which is to say that when we received the call, officers responded to the scene, did a basic investigation, and attempted to determine if there was any immediate threat to life or property.”
Michaud added, “While it may seem that nothing was happening, or that what was happening wasn’t at the speed the victim may have liked, we still have to respond in a manner that respects the rights of all parties involved.”
Dean is the ex-boyfriend of one of Shoji’s tenants. But when Shoji heard a report that Dean and others were firing automatic weapons (which apparently belonged to Dean) on the rooftop, Shoji asked him to leave.
Dean refused and eventually concocted a story that his weapons had been stolen, according to Shoji. When Shoji asked to conduct an inspection, the threats started. Dean left an intimidating note for him, which Shoji showed to the Northwest Asian Weekly.
“If I were not an older Asian man, he would not have felt he could take advantage of me,” said Shoji.
Frustration with SPD
A wistful, wizened man with an air of having seen it all, Shoji was formerly a pool hustler up and down the West Coast. Eventually, in 1985, he bought the small apartment building on Beacon Hill with a store on the first floor, which he ran.
He decided to give the building to his daughter after she was born “so she could have something to fall back on in case anything went wrong.”
Shoji, who is also a writer and author of graphic novels about the history of Japan’s transition from the medieval feudal era to modern times, lives in one of the apartments, a cluttered space overflowing with books, an old typewriter, tools, and a very large cat he adopted that he simply calls “fat cat.”
During the interview, on June 27, he sits with the cat on his lap stroking her head and body again and again gently while the cat writhes, loving it.
In a series of notes he composed after the incidents, Shoji said that SPD complained they were understaffed.
“I’m frustrated, the fact that it took six weeks for his arrest,” he said. “But the cops have a lot of problems right now.”
In response to the issue raised by the Northwest Asian Weekly, Michaud said, “We are understaffed. As a department, we have been losing officers for a few years now and have been making attempts to hire new officers, but the rates of loss are still higher than the rates of hiring.”
Michaud also said that given the limited amount of time provided to him, he could not speak to the attempts officers made at reaching out in this specific case and did “not want to misspeak or mislead you.”
Shoji’s daughter, who flew in from another state, had worked with a lawyer to obtain a restraining order against Dean.
“But [Dean] was out here today,” said Shoji, drooping back in an old metal couch on his deck.
“He’s not supposed to be here.”
What was most inexplicable, Shoji said, is that after the assault, police arrested Dean’s ex-girlfriend who was in her car on the street. She had burst into his apartment a few hours before Dean barged in, Shoji said, then left.
Police failed to arrest Dean because, according to Shoji, Dean’s ex-girlfriend told SPD that Dean was in the hospital with two broken legs and a shoulder injury. She reportedly told the police that Shoji had assaulted Dean with his cane. The police, believing her initially, asked Shoji for his cane as evidence, he said.
On asking for Shoji’s cane as evidence, Michaud said, “We absolutely did. Based on statements, it was used to assault a person. That makes it evidence and we have an obligation to maintain evidence of a crime.”
The video appears to show Shoji clutching his cane only after Dean had left.
Caught on video
The video itself is nightmarish. Dean is all padded up, a towering figure, his movements crisp and violent. Despite there being no sound, you can see his head moving up and down frantically as he screams at Shoji, who is standing back in his hallway. After he strikes Shoji, Shoji gets up again, and Dean pursues him off camera into his bedroom. For several minutes, the screen shows only an empty hallway.
Then Dean strides out, shaking off his arms.
After a moment, Shoji comes struggling out again. Dean again fells him with a harsh violent blow, then kicks him while he’s lying on the floor.
Still, until June 28, Shoji claims that SPD declined to take any further action.
In his perplexity over the slowness of the police to respond, Shoji wonders if some members of the police are delaying their response times to show their anger and frustration over the increasing calls for police reform in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“That’s in the news. That’s been the accusation,” said Shoji. “That’s what I heard.”
“Our response times remain relatively unchanged over pretty much the last decade,” said Michaud. He said response times could be seen on: http://www.seattle.gov/police/information-and-data/calls-for-service-dashboard
Shoji’s father, who was born in Japan, was trained as a samurai. He left Shoji a 500-year-old sword, which he now has polished up.
But Shoji is a pacifist. He taught self-defense classes decades earlier. It was for this reason, he believes, that Dean, knowing of his past in martial arts, padded up with armor of a sort before barging into his apartment. In the video, besides the helmet, he is wearing some kind of chest protector.
Shoji said that when Dean threatened him once earlier, he felt it necessary to demonstrate that he could defend himself.
“I made a physical move and pulled it short,” he said. “I told him that before he knew it, I could gouge his eyes out.”
Shoji has been unable to evict his tenant, who invited Dean and three other people, including a young child, to live with her. There has been no payment of any rent since the pandemic started, he said, despite his tenant receiving unemployment benefits.
Shoiji’s daughter was able to receive $12,000 from St. Vincent de Paul to help with their own payments, which covered about half the rent. And Shoji had originally decided to let the rest go for the sake of the child and the others.
“There are a lot of people with no place to go.”
But the automatic weapons were an issue. After the police arrested Dean’s ex-girlfriend, Shoji told them not to press charges against her.
“I didn’t want to see a mother going to prison.”
Now he wonders if that was a mistake.
“When [Dean] came into my house, I should not have let my guard down. I should have defended myself right away. I wouldn’t have acted this way 20 years ago.”
Asked if the assault would be considered a hate crime, especially given the racially charged language, Michaud offered a clarification.
“Yes, if he is assaulting someone or committing some other crime BECAUSE of a person’s protected status, then yes, that counts as a bias crime and charging can be much different for that,” he said.
Shoji says he is going to post the video on social media where it can be found under his name.
Mahlon can be reached at email@example.com.