Portland bans local police from working with feds, targeting legal observers during protests

City officials unanimously voted to approve the policies, calling them necessary as President Trump has refused to remove federal officers from the city


By Everton Bailey Jr.
The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland will immediately ban all police bureau members from cooperating with federal law enforcement or intentionally using force on or arresting journalists and legal observers, under a new policy the City Council passed Wednesday.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who crafted and introduced the last-minute resolutions, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and Mayor Ted Wheeler unanimously voted to approve the policies, calling them necessary as President Donald Trump has refused to remove federal officers from the city.

A federal officer pushes back demonstrators at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A federal officer pushes back demonstrators at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Portlanders have taken to the streets for eight weeks to protest police brutality and systemic racism and have been met with force from city and federal officers leading to injuries, arrests and lawsuits.

The ban on coordinating with federal officers cites “an unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power by the federal government” as reason to discipline any Portland police member if they provide, request or willingly receive operational support from any agency or employee representing the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Marshal Service, Federal Protective Service, Customs and Border Protection or any other federal service while they are occupying the city.

The other policy condemns intentional targeting of press members and legal observers who are documenting police conduct during the protests unless city officers have reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime. That policy will remain in place for as long as a similar federal judge’s order remains in effect.

Eudaly said she feels the city has to take every action available to ensure the police bureau protects people and that people’s rights aren’t being violated. She said federal officers have tear gassed and fired munitions at protesters without warning and the majority of people impacted by them aren’t engaged in criminal activity. She denied the notion that the city is “under siege”. She also thanked journalists and legal observers for their work documenting demonstrations over the last two months, saying they shouldn’t have to risk their safety to inform the public and noting that it’s their job to hold the government accountable.

“Whether you agree with the protesters or not, if you believe in the Constitution of the United States, you must oppose the actions of this president and the violent suppression of individuals exercising their constitutional rights,” Eudaly said.

The city faces several lawsuits over the actions and tactics of Portland officers during demonstrations, including tear gas use and assaults on journalists.

Oregon officials have also recently sued the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals Service and other federal agencies. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s lawsuit arguing federal officers President Donald Trump sent to Portland have illegally detained, threatened, injured and arrested protesters.

City, state and congressional leaders, including Wheeler, have called for Trump to remove federal officers from the city. The president, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and other federal officials have refused, saying the federal Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse and Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building downtown need to be protected from graffiti and other damage from demonstrators.

Portland police officials said last week that the bureau regularly communicated with federal authorities during downtown protests to be aware of what the other was doing and that a member of the Federal Protective Service was stationed in the Portland police command post. They’ve said neither agency has direct control over the other’s operations.

Wheeler, who is also Portland’s police commissioner, has said the city doesn’t want or need federal aid and that the city didn’t know what federal officers were doing or why.

During the weekend, the police bureau announced it would no longer have a federal presence in its command post. The fire bureau announced the next day that Hardesty, who oversees the agency, approved a policy change to prevent any law enforcement from using city fire stations as a base for tactical operations.

Hardesty said Wednesday that she’s been appalled by the actions of law enforcement toward demonstrators. She accused Trump of trying to silence Portlanders’ First Amendment rights and accused the Portland Police Association, the union that represents the majority of officers, of lying to the public about the bureau’s level of cooperation with federal authorities.

She questioned why Portland officers didn’t protect demonstrators from being tear gassed and attacked by federal authorities. She said she disagreed that there are “riots’ in the city most nights, as police have declared, and said that “acts of resistance” from the public shouldn’t be met with excessive force.

“If Portland does not stand up now and we as a city council don’t hold our own police officers accountable for this egregious behavior, we will go down in history as having failed in our obligation to protect community members,” she said.

Hardesty said she believes Portland police’s response to demonstrations opened the door for federal officers being deployed and also using force. Wheeler and police officials have said, by contrast, that Portland police had protests under control to the extent they were close to petering out and that federal overreaction and overreach was responsible for reigniting Portlanders’ fury.

“The blame should rest entirely on the Portland Police Bureau and their lack of de-escalation skills, their lack of ability to engage communities where they are and their lack of desire to protect Portlanders, who are under fire every single night,” Hardesty said.

Hardesty said she was shocked when, during a recent conversation with Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, he said he didn’t think journalists were protected under the Constitution. When police order people to leave, Hardesty recalled Lovell saying, everyone should leave whether they are part of the media or not. She said she couldn’t convince him otherwise.

“The fact that the chief does not know that the media has a right to record their actions makes this resolution vital,” Hardesty said.

Fritz said the city planned to take more actions to address federal officers in the city, condemned the actions of the president and federal officers, and called on Portlanders to remain united against racial injustice.

“People who commit violent acts aren’t welcome here, whichever side of the confrontation line they occupy during the demonstrations,” Fritz said. “Those responsible must be brought justice whether they wear a badge or not.”

Wheeler said he didn’t agree with everything Eudaly, Fritz and Hardesty said, but he was “deeply disturbed” by reports of journalists being targeted by federal and city police officers during demonstration. He said they should be allowed to do their jobs without fear of police interference.

He said the community is being attacked by federal officers the city has no oversight of and that they weren’t invited, properly trained or welcome in the city.

“Therefore, I have no reservations about directing the Portland Police Bureau to continue to reject any or all requests for support from these federal interlopers,” Wheeler said. “What’s happening on our streets is not only an assault on Portland values, but on American norms.”

Wheeler announced Monday that he joined the mayors of Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Seattle and Washington D.C., in sending letters calling on the Trump administration to scrap plans to send federal forces to major American cities and for Congressional leadership to launch an investigation into the deployments.

Wheeler said Wednesday that he would order Lovell to have all police staff follow the new rules immediately

©2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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