But-for Vanessa Sturgeon

Updates from the Freddy Nelson Jr. wrongful death suit

Stephanie Volin
6 min readJun 15, 2023

Now that private security guard Logan Gimbel has been found guilty of the second-degree murder of Freddy Nelson Jr., and sentenced to life — or at minimum, 25 years — it’s time to check in with the civil case filed by Nelson’s family in late 2021.

The wrongful death suit named shooter Gimbel and other individuals at Cornerstone Security Group as defendants, but also included two corporations run by or registered to Vanessa Sturgeon — a wealthy, influential, and politically-connected Portland businessperson.

Communications only recently made public draw particular attention to the conduct of the controversial TMT Development President and CEO, and beg the question: Why was Sturgeon not named personally as a defendant?

But for Sturgeon’s hysterical (and still unsubstantiated) cries of “danger,” her bizarre insistence on armed security at the shopping plaza where the murder eventually occurred, and her obsession with enforcing the most trivial of rules — compounded by her apparent zero-tolerance policy for facts, consistency, and the word no — Nelson would most certainly be alive today.

The lawsuit was in a holding pattern during the criminal case and as the parties grappled with discovery and an onerous protective order, but there was a hearing this morning to decide if Lowe’s could be added as an additional defendant, and if the Nelson’s complaint could be amended, including that damages be increased sixfold, to $150,000,000.

The outcome of that hearing is as yet unknown, but among the many documents filed in advance of the hearing were letters exchanged between Sturgeon’s attorney and the attorney for the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative (OBRC), about TMT’s attempts to shut down and evict the BottleDrop next to Lowe’s, i.e. the event that set everything in motion. OBRC’s Delta Park storefront had become busier than usual in March 2020 because grocery stores were not redeeming bottles and cans during the earliest days of the covid emergency.

Every indication is that Sturgeon was personally disturbed by — not concerned for — OBRC’s vulnerable, dripping-bags-toting clientele; and that any claims she made that the situation was “dangerous,” “beyond the pale,” and “combustible” were not based in reality. Sturgeon had tried to evict BottleDrop once before (in 2017) and failed, and now there were even more unsightly and impoverished people milling about the location, with even more bags of garbage.

Sturgeon used her false claims of danger and the looming threat of eviction as an excuse to hire armed security guards to patrol the property, and to force OBRC to pay for it. That is, Sturgeon invented and complained about an imaginary danger, and then forced it into existence by hiring Cornerstone.

These three letters regarding BottleDrop and Cornerstone were exchanged in the months leading up to the fatal shooting, and are devastatingly prescient on OBRC’s part.

Sturgeon’s attorney Bonnie Richardson responded by putting her fingers in her ears and chastising OBRC for their “unnecessary and unjustified inflammatory language,” all while making additional unevidenced allegations about danger.

Everyone should read these letters, and then watch the horrific footage from Freddy Nelson Jr.’s murder — which should forever be associated with Vanessa Sturgeon’s name.

Bodycam and security footage from the murder of Freddie Nelson Jr.

There is no indication that Lowe’s ever complained about BottleDrop’s overflow crowd, as was reported at the time.

Instead, we do now know that Sturgeon and TMT had a “Zero Tolerance Policy” for policing their properties that directly conflicted with Lowe’s apparently agreeable relationship with Nelson. Naturally, Cornerstone and its security guards were primed to listen to TMT, because that’s who was paying them.

However, TMT was in violation of its own lease agreement with its “ground lease tenant” Lowe’s, which dictated that Lowe’s was responsible for policing its own grounds within a stated “blue boundary line,” which most certainly included the area where Nelson’s murder occurred.

An email sent by Cornerstone weeks before the shooting asked TMT to help with the “ongoing issue” of Lowe’s and Nelson’s agreement regarding shipping pallets, which permitted Nelson access to the back of the building. Cornerstone stated that “Lowe’s has constantly and consistently undermined both [Cornerstone] and TMT guidelines on trespass in the back of the building.”

TMT property manager Marc Wilkins responded that the fraught conflict between Cornerstone, Lowe’s, and Nelson was “completely” TMT’s bad. He even told Cornerstone to give Nelson his number “the next time [Cornerstone] officers encounter” him.

An internal Cornerstone memo also filed in the case reveals some of TMT’s “Zero Tolerance” guidelines, regarding activities that were not “family friendly” and that “must be ended immediately,” or violators would be “trespassed/removed from the property,” such as:

Walking across the grass and landscaping, being behind buildings and unauthorized areas in which there is no business to conduct, cutting through the property by means of going through fencing/landscaping, littering such as throwing cigarette butts on the ground, loitering, illegal dumping, trash rummaging, urinating/defecating in public, use of controlled substances, public disruption, disorderly conduct, violence, illegal parking/camping, persons parking in other tenant parking spaces for the purpose of fraudulently returning bottles/cans from out of state (Washington).

It is notable that Sturgeon’s company considered “walking across the grass and landscaping” to be a non-family friendly offense, given that Sturgeon herself complained to the press that BottleDrop’s customers were dumping “syringes and needles” in the “soft surface of the grassy area, where children regularly play, and are creating an added public safety issue for OBRC’s patrons and patrons of nearby businesses.” Hypocritical.

In that same article, Sturgeon also bragged about fencing in “the area in an effort to keep people safe,” and named one of Governor Brown’s staffers as endorsing her plan to do so.

When that staffer, policy advisor Jeff Rhoades, heard about that article, he told Sturgeon to take his name out of her mouth, and told ORBC that he would “be cutting off all communication to TMT.”

In response to Nelson’s family’s request to amend, TMT filed a nine-page opposition, stating that the request should be denied because it was untimely and “would unfairly prejudice TMT” defendants.

In response to that and the other defendants’ replies, the Nelson family noted in its filing yesterday that:

To date, no Defendant has filed an answer in this case, no Defendant has served requests for production, no Defendant has served requests for admission, and no Defendant has noticed the deposition of any person. Defendant TMT has issued two document subpoenas on June 1, 2023. No other defendant has issued any document subpoena.

Those subpoenas that TMT issued popped out about a week after TMT received the proposed amended complaint — which was about as quick as humanly possible, given that it was also Memorial Day weekend.¹

Vanessa Sturgeon is a wealthy and well-connected real estate developer, who is used to getting things exactly how she wants them, even from elected officials, and even if she has to pretend that some emergency exists which actually does not.

But for Sturgeon falsely crying “danger,” converting her fantasy into armed and barely-licensed security guards, and demanding adherence to two entirely different sets of rules, the Nelson family would be quietly enjoying the rest of Freddie’s life, rather than living a never-ending nightmare.

This case demands to be watched closely, as an indicator of just what a single influential and wealthy person can get away with.

¹ This kind of negative stimuli/rapid response is reminiscent of how Sturgeon filed to change her middle name — from Colleen to Cameron — just 10 days after she was hit with service and a subpoena in a case filed by her relatives, including her Aunt Colleen. Claiming to “not care for” your middle name is petty level 10.