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Cops resign en masse from Portland’s crowd control unit after fellow officer indicted

The team members voted to disband over a perceived lack of support from City Hall, a lieutenant said

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Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian

By Maxine Bernstein

PORTLAND, Ore. — Officers who serve on the Portland Police Bureau’s specialized crowd control unit, known as the Rapid Response Team, voted to resign from the team during a meeting Wednesday night then alerted the chief’s office, a police lieutenant and the mayor’s office have confirmed.

The unprecedented move by officers and sergeants to disband their own team came a day after a team member, Officer Cody Budworth, was indicted, accused of fourth-degree assault stemming from a baton strike against a protester last summer. A year ago, about 70 members comprised the team.

A team lieutenant called Chief Chuck Lovell to inform him the members of the team, who serve voluntarily in the assignments, voted to resign due to perceived lack of support from City Hall and from the district attorney over the past year, which included more than 100 consecutive nights of protest coverage, according to the mayor’s office and officers.

[READ: Why increasing officer morale should be a priority for every police leader]

Police liaison Robert King alerted the mayor’s office about 9:30 p.m., and Assistant Chief Chris Davis followed up with a call. The en masse resignation was first reported by KXL.

A 9 a.m. Thursday meeting has been set between police brass, the mayor’s office and a police union representative.

Lt. Franz Schoening, who has been a supervisor on the team, confirmed the vote. He said he could not provide additional information without clearance from the bureau.

The team has been on the front lines at social justice protests held in the city after the May 25 murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck and pinned him to the pavement.

Many demonstrations devolved into clashes with officers late at night, and at times ended with vandalism, property damage and fires set. The crowd control team was the unit often directed to disperse crowds after police declared unlawful assemblies or riots.

Their use of force has led to multiple civil lawsuits in state and federal court, sanctions from a judge and now an indictment.

Aside from Oregon State Police, few outside police agencies were willing to assist Portland in protest coverage.

How the Police Bureau will respond to future large-scale protests is now uncertain. Yet the chief still can direct officers to respond.

In late October, the president of the police union, the Portland Police Association, sent the mayor and police chief a letter, urging both to “stand up and publicly support Police Bureau members who voluntarily serve on the Rapid Response Team (RRT).”

“Our RRT members do not volunteer to have Molotov cocktails, fireworks, explosives, rocks, bottles, urine, feces and other dangerous objects thrown at them,” wrote Daryl Turner, then president of the union. He noted that the team members volunteer for the work without any specialty pay.

“Nor do they volunteer to have threats of rape, murder and assaults on their families hurled at them. They do not volunteer to suffer serious injuries, to be subjected to warrantless criticism and face allegations by elected officials, or to suffer through baseless complaints and lengthy investigations devoid of due process.”

Budworth marked the first Rapid Response Team officer to face criminal prosecution stemming from force used during a protest.

Budworth is accused of striking a woman, Teri Jacobs, in the face with a baton after knocking her to the ground on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard after a riot was declared near the Multnomah Building on Aug. 18.

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt described Budworth’s baton strike as excessive force that was legally unjustified.

The district attorney also told The Oregonian/OregonLive Tuesday afternoon that he had asked the Oregon Department of Justice to review for potential criminal prosecution the force used by another Rapid Response Team member, Det. Erik Kammerer, during protests.

The union criticized Budworth’s prosecution as politically driven, and it contends Budworth’s baton strike was “accidental,” not criminal. The Portland Police Association issued a statement Tuesday, saying Schmidt needs to prosecute “the real criminals who are perpetrating vandalism, arson, gun violence, and other violent crimes in our community,” and not go after officers attempting to do their jobs with little support.

In March, a federal judge also restricted officers with the Rapid Response Team from using crowd-control launchers during protests until they completed further training and “can recognize and articulate a threat without speculating and before using less-lethal force.’'

U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez’s sanctions came after the judge’s findings in November that two officers had acted in contempt of his June 26 order barring police from firing FN303s and 40mm less-lethal launchers and using pepper spray on people engaged in passive resistance. The case stemmed from a suit filed by Don’t Shoot Portland, a Black-led nonprofit that advocates for social and racial justice in the city.

Patrol officers who aren’t part of the specialized Rapid Response Team but are on mobile field forces have also been called in for protest coverage. Unlike the Rapid Response Team members, who are armed with less-lethal launchers, impact munitions and riot-control agents, the mobile field officers carry batons and pepper spray.

Rapid Response Team officers have used such riot-control agents as tear gas, OC (the irritant Oleoresin Capsicum, or pepper spray) pyrotechnic gas or smoke, which are either fired from a 40 mm launcher or thrown in canisters. Impact munitions they’ve been armed with include foam-tipped projectiles fired from a 40mm launcher or a plastic projectile containing an inert powder and non-toxic chemical called bismuth that’s fired from an FN 303 air-powered launcher.

The dismantling of the team comes as the Police Bureau is struggling with an exodus of officers resigning from the bureau due to low morale and complaints about lack of support from city commissioners. It also comes amid a spiraling number of shootings and homicides, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s formal notice to the city that the Police Bureau has failed to comply with mandated reforms required under its settlement agreement.

[READ: ‘Burned out’: Portland cops leave scathing exit interviews]

Further, any urgency to create a new uniformed, proactive policing team to try to combat the city’s gun violence has not materialized, with less than a handful of officers volunteering to serve on a team that the police chief had anticipated would include two sergeants and 12 officers.

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