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Portland police officer's ‘personal mission’ puts serial attacker of homeless behind bars

Through countless hours and late nights, officer Matt Jacobsen helped send Juan Sensational Dickens, also known as "Sin," to prison.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Officer Matt Jacobsen, part of the Portland Police Bureau's Neighborhood Response Team, sees those on the sidewalks and streets as people who deserve protection.

“The fact is, it doesn’t matter if somebody's unsheltered or mental health affected or drug affected or whatever their situation in life is. It's not OK to be victimized like that and it’s not OK for somebody else to hurt them,” he said. 

Which is why the fear caught his attention when he went to a stabbing last November. The victim knew his attacker. Both were homeless. But the victim and everyone else were too afraid to cooperate.

The prosecutor eventually learned the suspect's name, too. It was Sin. 

"He was just known as Sin and everyone was afraid of Sin,” said Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Nathan Vasquez.

His real name is Juan Sensational Dickens. He would eventually plead guilty to attempted aggravated murder and attempted murder charges for brutally attacking four different men in downtown Portland. It was likely punishment for some offense or drug debt, according to the prosecutor.

Credit: Portland police
Juan Sensational Dickens

The attacks Dickens pleaded guilty to included:

  • Aug.17, 2015: Dickens approached a man under the Burnside Bridge and stabbed the man in the back.
  • Sept. 4, 2017: Dickens used a bicycle chain to hit a man in the head, which resulted in the man needing stitches to close the open wound.
  • Jan. 19, 2018: Dickens stabbed a man in the torso.
  • Nov. 17, 2018: Dickens used a knife to stab a man in the ribs, which resulted in doctors having to remove the man's spleen.

Officer Jacobsen knew Dickens from talking to him on the street. He began to study every crime report that mentioned Dickens by name.

“Once I started to get into this and really seeing the pattern and how seriously impactful those events were on our victims... it was definitely something that I wanted to keep from happening again,” said Jacobsen. 

Credit: Portland police
Matt Jacobsen

But before he could do that, he needed to win the trust of the victims.

“There's a big stigma about cooperating and talking to the police on the street. So, you're really competing against a number of different things," said Jacobsen.

But he broke through by getting people into treatment or housing-- helping them with their problems.

Vasquez, the Deputy District Attorney, said two of the victims are now in transitional housing, one is getting mental health therapy and the fourth is still struggling.

“He really did personally shine,” said Vasquez, referring to Jacobsen.

He said Jacobsen was the difference in making the case.

“There were a lot of times where it was a question about whether or not we were going to be able to successfully prosecute the case. And he really stepped up and made it his own personal mission to make sure that, yes, this was going to get done, this wasn’t going to fall through the cracks and these people matter,” Vasquez said. 

Jacobsen shrugged it off as something police officers do, but he admits there were many late nights working the case. 

“It definitely took some time out of the rest of my life, but ultimately this is something that needed to happen for our community. Because I was born and raised here. I don’t think it’s OK that somebody who violently attacks this many people should be freely walking the street. And that's ultimately what it comes down to,” Jacobsen said.

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