Homeless man arrested in Riverside Park homicide

One man is dead and another is in the Josephine County Jail after a shooting Sunday night during a fight at Riverside Park.

Charles J. Smith, 34, was arraigned today on a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the death of a man identified in court records as Joshua Perez.

Grants Pass police said the shooting stemmed from a fight between two homeless men staying at the park.

In a probable cause affidavit, a detective said Smith engaged in an altercation with a man at the park, then returned a few moments later with a .45-caliber handgun and fired.

Both Smith and the victim had been “utilizing Riverside Park to rest overnight,” according to a release from Grants Pass police.

Police withheld the name of the dead man, but he was identified in court records as Joshua Perez.

The physical altercation between Smith and Perez was first reported about 8 p.m. Sunday near the boat ramp. Police said the man who was killed had been armed with a knife but the knife was sheathed at the time they found it on his body.

Witnesses told police there was a “clear break” in the first physical fight, and the second altercation when they saw Smith fire at the victim, who was hit in the neck.

Smith then fled the park in a car. A sheriff’s sergeant located the blue car involved about 2 miles away and stopped Smith.

Smith made his initial appearance in circuit court Monday on the murder charge as well as an additional charge of unlawful use of a weapon. Both charges carry firearms enhancements.

His next court appearance is currently scheduled for May 22.

The park is heavily used by homeless people taking advantage of a federal court order in a 2018 class-action lawsuit against Grants Pass allowing overnight camping in all city parks except for Reinhart Volunteer Park.

The court order, an injunction, has been in effect since 2020 while the city appeals a ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke that invalidated the city’s camping ordinances.

The city lost the first round of appeals last year but is awaiting a second appellate decision preparatory to an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Clarke’s ruling built on a 2018 decision in the case of Martin v. city of Boise that held that cities can’t punish homeless people for sleeping outside when there aren’t enough shelter beds.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the Boise case but has since shifted dramatically to the right in makeup.