Friends of Michael David Rister, who was better known downtown as Sweet Pea, want to know who the assailants were that they say attacked him. Sweet Pea, a homeless street artist, was often seen outside the Circle K and Pita Pit in Eugene. Friends are working on a memorial celebration for him, and they also say they want justice for him in his death.
Mayo Finch, who knew Sweet Pea for the last six or seven years and saw him almost every day near Finch’s downtown home, says that this is not the first time one of his homeless friends has been killed, and he wants the people who attacked Sweet Pea to know that this wasn’t just a fight: “I want them to know they killed somebody.”
Finch says, “Being brutally assaulted for being homeless is right on the verge of a hate crime.”
Finch ran into Sweet Pea not long after the altercation and says he saw his friend looking beat up. Sweet Pea told him he had been jumped by a “bunch of well-dressed kids in their teens and 20s” who tripped him and began kicking him because he was homeless. Finch says Sweet Pea told him the assailants were laughing as they beat him.
Sweet Pea went to the hospital for his injuries but was released, according to Finch, and then later went back in only to die of a brain hemorrhage. A death notice has not been published as of press time, but Eugene police confimed his Jan. 4 death and friends on Sweet Pea’s Facebook memorial page (wkly.ws/1f3) say his remains have been cremated and his mother has been contacted. Finch believes that Sweet Pea gave a statement to the police about the attack. A Eugene police spokesperson says that Sweet Pea “was witnessed to have fallen during a seizure in which he hit his head, causing head trauma,” and adds that according to the medical examiner “head trauma, due to fall, due to seizure episode” was the cause of death.
Sweet Pea has been a part of the Eugene community since the 1990s, his friend Rachel Mitrani says, meeting with fellow Deadheads on 13th Avenue to mourn the death of Jerry Garcia. Newspaper reports might tell of altercations Sweet Pea (listed under his given name of Rister) had with others, but friend Jillette Henson says, “He was very loved among his friends. The kind of person that lights up the room when he enters it. Always full of positive vibes. A good soul.” Others remember Sweet Pea’s artwork and tell of his signature saying, telling passersby, “Hey, you dropped your smile.”