Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office to end the federal deputation of 56 Portland Police officers, currently slated to last the rest of this year.
The majority of the city’s Rapid Response Team was deputized as federal marshals for a far-right rally in Portland on Saturday amid widespread fears that the large gathering of protesters and counter-protesters would lead to violence.
But city officials seemed to be operating under the assumption that the local police would keep that status only for the weekend. As OPB first reported, it will, in fact, last until the end of December under the current agreement.
Deputizing Portland officers gives federal prosecutors the option to charge anyone they arrest with federal crimes, which usually come with harsher penalties.
The mayor’s office said in a statement they had “asked the U.S. Attorney’s office to withdraw the designation.”
“A key feature of the designation is that anyone who assaults a federally deputized official could be subject to federal charges,” read a statement from the mayor’s office. “Fortunately, I am confident the Multnomah County District Attorney will continue to prosecute anyone who assaults or otherwise harms police officers or others.”
The federal deputizations threaten to route charging power around new county District Attorney Mike Schmidt, who has declined to bring low-level charges against protesters, in the process angering law enforcement officers who believe the threat of prosecution is necessary to deter crime.
But according to the city, local police were only supposed to have this federal power for the weekend.
In an email to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, city attorney Tracy Reeve wrote that city leaders had been under the impression that the deputization of local police would end with the termination of the governor’s state of emergency, which was set to end Sunday evening. The state of emergency declaration had allowed Gov. Kate Brown to put Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in charge of policing Saturday’s protests.
“At this time, the Governor’s Executive Order has terminated, and the Portland Police Bureau is back under the control and direction of the City of Portland, and specifically Police Commissioner and Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Portland City Council,” Reeve wrote. “The City of Portland does not consent to the continuing federal deputization of PPB officers and hereby formally withdraws its consent to this deputization effective immediately.”
It’s not clear who requested that the local police’s federal status to extend for three months as opposed to just the weekend. Reeve’s email noted that Portland officers had been deputized at the direction of Superintendent Travis Hampton. She said Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell had also submitted a letter to the US Marshals Service approving Hampton’s direction.
But City Hall was caught off guard.
City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said on Twitter that she fully agreed with Wheeler that the federal status of more than 50 Portland Police needed to be rescinded and requested that the federally deputized police not respond to protests. That would be most of the Rapid Response Team.
“Portlanders have been clear: we don’t need more deputized officers; we need de-escalation,” she wrote.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said her office has been surprised to hear the news that local police would be retaining their status as federal marshals and said she supports the ACLU’s call for an independent prosecutor to investigate allegations of police abuses during the months of protests. She also echoed Hardesty’s call to see the deputized police stand back from the nightly protests while their federal status persists.
“Commissioner Eudaly and our office believed we had been well-briefed last week, however plans changed once Gov. Brown stepped in," she said. "We were not made aware of this deputization, and certainly not made aware that it will be ongoing.”
Without intervention from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the federal designation will run through Dec. 31.
Twenty-two deputies with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office were also federally deputized for Saturday’s rally with the status set to expire at the end of the year.