Violence erupted Wednesday night at protests in downtown Portland as hundreds of people gathered to condemn a lack of direct charges against Kentucky police officers for the March killing of Breonna Taylor.
Earlier in the day, Kentucky’s attorney general announced a grand jury had declined to bring charges against two police officers who shot Taylor six times during a raid on her home in Louisville. A third officer was indicted for reckless endangerment for his role during the shooting.
Hours after the decision, hundreds of protesters gathered in downtown Portland to express their anger and grief at the decision. The demonstration quickly became the most significant clash seen between protesters and Portland police officers since massive wildfires over the Labor Day weekend briefly paused the demonstrations due to smoke.
When demonstrators first gathered Wednesday, people listened to speeches from Black activists and joined in familiar chants of “no justice, no peace” outside the Multnomah County Justice Center.
Demetria Hester chants “Black Lives Matter” in front of the justice center, downtown Portland pic.twitter.com/IhyIDl86xW— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) September 24, 2020
Tensions escalated quickly over the evening as some people threw objects and broke windows at the Justice Center, and police declared the demonstration an unlawful assembly.
Police said as they began to arrive on the scene to disperse the crowd around 10 p.m., people began to throw objects at them, including fireworks.
Protestor throws firework at police, police bullrush crowd pic.twitter.com/BCa3iJdAHm— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) September 24, 2020
Due to a city order banning the use of tear gas, police said they used other types of crowd control munitions to target people, including impact weapons and “OC munitions” — a type of pepper round that causes burning eyes and skin.
While officers were clearing streets, 23-year-old Joseph Robert Sipe allegedly threw a Molotov cocktail toward officers that exploded in flames. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office charged Sipe on Thursday with riot and possession of a destructive device.
“It is alleged that law enforcement saw Sipe light the wick of a Molotov cocktail and then throw the object near the intersection of Southwest 3rd Avenue and Southwest Main Street,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Prosecutors said Sipe admitted in a police interview to lighting the fire bomb and throwing it behind a line of uniformed officers.
However, they also said police are still investigating who threw a second Molotov cocktail near the intersection of SW 2nd Avenue and SW Main Street. That device exploded close to officers and lit one officer’s boot on fire.
“Law enforcement continues to conduct investigative follow up to determine exactly who threw the Molotov cocktail from this incident,” the DA’s office said in its statement.
Police reported that a medic from the Portland Fire and Rescue helped extinguish the flames and the officer was not seriously injured in the attack.
Protestor throws Molotov at police pic.twitter.com/i3afKRalAT— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) September 24, 2020
Some demonstrators also lit fires on plywood and awnings attached to the Justice Center. Federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security assisted Portland police in clearing and closing a 70-square-block area of downtown.
Police made 13 arrests during the evening. In addition to Sipe, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office said it would be prosecuting Cyan Bass, 21, for arson and riot — among other charges — for allegedly igniting fires on buildings and throwing an incendiary device at officers that did not explode. Calvin Jackson, 19, will also face charges for allegedly throwing rocks that damaged windows. Jackson faces one count of felony riot and one count of second-degree criminal mischief.
“I am glad we were able to make arrests and hold people accountable for the reprehensible acts of violence,” Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said in a statement.
Woman suffering from OC gas is pulled out pic.twitter.com/cPPi65uKUI— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) September 24, 2020
Police and protesters continued to clash over the night until the crowd dispersed around 1:30 a.m., according to police.