Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Portland police officers who were deputized as federal marshals for a far-right rally in Portland on Saturday will retain that status until the end of the year, according to spokespersons for the two law enforcement agencies.
The officers were deputized Saturday morning after increasingly violent online rhetoric leading up to the rally prompted elected leaders to take extraordinary measures in the hopes of avoiding street violence.
At the time, the Portland Police Bureau said deputizing its officers was necessary for the far-right rally so federal prosecutors could “charge allegations of assault on a federal officer to anyone who attacks Officers.”
But the ability to bring federal charges against demonstrators for months after the rally will have cascading effects.
For the next three months, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will have the option to prosecute anyone arrested by the federally deputized law enforcement officers. Anyone arrested for attacking one of those officers could also face federal charges, which often come with more severe penalties.
“If they were attacked, whoever attacked them could face federal charges and be prosecuted differently,” said Dave Oney, a spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals Service.
Oney said local police are often deputized by the U.S. Marshals Service if they’re part of a specific operation, for example, if the agency needed assistance from local police tracking down a fugitive. In those cases, the deputization would last for the length of the operation. Local officers can also be federally deputized for specific events, such as an inauguration where there’s an increased need for law enforcement. In the case of an inauguration, Oney said, the federal deputization would last for the length of the event.
He said he did not know why local law enforcement in the Portland area, ostensibly deputized for a specific event, would keep those protections until the end of the year.
Portland Police said there were 56 officers, sergeants and lieutenants sworn in. The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said 22 deputies had been federally deputized.
Roughly 50 members of the Oregon State Police have also been deputized for a prolonged period of time. As part of Gov. Kate Brown’s agreement to get federal officers deployed by President Donald Trump out of Portland, the state police troopers were deputized to protect the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse. They were sworn in for one year.
U.S. prosecutors in Oregon have brought more federal charges against protesters in recent weeks. The PPB officers and sheriff’s deputies who were deputized could provide a streamlined way to start doing that more often.
“During a time where we have an incumbent presidential candidate who is willing to push the bounds of federal law enforcement authority — constitution be damned — it’s really troubling that our government officials would be willing to help expand the number of federal police officers on Oregon streets,” said ACLU of Oregon legal director Kelly Simon. “We should be scared, actually, that we’re growing that machine for the president.”
The deputations also threaten to undermine Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, who angered law enforcement when he announced in August that he wouldn’t bring low-level charges against protesters.
Schmidt was elected with an overwhelming 77% of the vote after he promised to reshape how the district attorney’s office pursues criminal justice. Portland police have continued to arrest hundreds of protesters despite his policy. Police union president Daryl Turner even allegedly speculated that Schmidt was backed by billionaire George Soros, referencing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that part of what police are trying to do with cross deputation is to evade accountability that comes with having to face the reality that DA Schmidt put forth,” Simon said. "Instead of engaging the public in a conversation about what better public safety could look like for Portland, we’re seeing officers doing everything they can to maintain as much power as they can over people who are interested in a different vision for our community.
The deputations coincided with an emergency declaration from Brown the day before the rally. That allowed the governor to create a unified command and put Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in charge of law enforcement response to Saturday’s demonstrations.
The far-right rally and counterdemonstrations ended with few arrests and incidents of violence. But the unified command remained in place into the evening when, for the 112th night, racial justice protesters took to the streets in downtown Portland to oppose systemic racism and a long history of police violence in the city.
According to police, some protesters threw rocks and other objects at officers, prompting them to declare an unlawful assembly and disperse the crowd.
During the dispersal, Portland police officers assaulted multiple protesters and journalists, violating the terms of a preliminary injunction restricting their interactions with the media and legal observers after a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Oregon.
“I think there’s no question that what we saw from the Portland Police Bureau and their treatment of journalists like John Rudoff violated the terms of the preliminary injunction,” Simon said.
A video posted online shows Rudoff, 73, photographing a group of officers tackling a protester to the ground and arresting them. Rudoff, who covered the Syrian refugee crisis and protests in Hong Kong and Paris, was standing off to the side when an officer stepped in front of him and casually threw him to the ground.
Aggressive arrests, baton jabbing and knocking a photographer to the ground. pic.twitter.com/OXdGhfOs3k— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) September 27, 2020
“Two cops grabbed me from my left and shoved me backward so fast I did not have a chance to brace myself,” Rudoff, a retired cardiologist turned journalist, wrote in a statement on Facebook. “The cops need to understand that an action like this – shoving a guy down on the cement with no warning – can fracture a hip or an arm or a skull, and can be a life-ending or career/mobility-ending move ... If I didn’t have a fat ass and a good helmet, my career, if not more, would have been over.”
Another video posted online shows OPB reporter Sergio Olmos walking in front of a line of police in riot gear, following their orders and moving in the direction they instructed. He was wearing body armor labeled press and OPB press credentials around his neck. In the video, an officer is seen shoving another journalist then yells at Olmos to “Go.” Olmos identifies himself as press and the officer says “Go, get moving” and shoves him into a tree.
This reporter is pushed into a tree pic.twitter.com/mXP5Ar1pLN— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) September 27, 2020
The unified command has created an accountability quagmire, with multiple law enforcement agencies unable to answer questions about who was ultimately in charge and whether or not the preliminary injunction against PPB applied Saturday night.
Oregon State Police Capt. Tim Fox said both OSP and MCSO were in charge, and wouldn’t clarify who had the final say on law enforcement response. Asked if they were operating under the assumption that the preliminary injunction applied to law enforcement agencies Saturday night, Fox said, “I am not aware of what the Unified Command knew regarding the (injunction).”
PPB initially declined to clarify any details about the command structure and legal restrictions, instead directing questions to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
MCSO spokesperson Chris Liedle refused to say who was in charge and whether or not they were operating as if the preliminary injunction applied.
“The Sheriff’s Office is not going to provide a legal opinion on the matter. We have no further comment,” Liedle said.
Late Monday night, PPB spokesperson Sgt. Kevin Allen confirmed the preliminary injunction was in effect for PPB officers Saturday night, suggesting officers may have violated that court order.
Asked if the preliminary injunction had been discussed with the governor before Saturday’s rally, spokesperson Charles Boyle said the question should be directed to law enforcement. Brown’s office also declined to comment on the federal deputations.
On Sunday, Gov. Brown tweeted a statement calling on OSP Superintendent Travis Hampton, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, and PPB Chief Chuck Lovell to review the alleged assaults on members of the media and legal observers.
But Brown’s response, placing oversight responsibility in the hands of the departments being investigated, highlights one of the chief complaints protesters across the country have repeatedly made: Police departments operate with impunity and often lack sufficient independent oversight.
“The governor’s response to ask each agency to look into the actions of their individual officers is one we know is not gonna work,” Simon said. "Law enforcement has been unable and unwilling to hold themselves accountable. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.'
The ACLU has instead called on the governor to appoint a special prosecutor. Her office didn’t respond to questions asking if she intends to do so.