Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler threatened termination if police chief didn’t back him on tear gas

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Oct. 9, 2020 4:46 a.m.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler warned Police Chief Chuck Lovell he could face discipline “up to and including termination,” after the police bureau publicly rebuked the mayor for banning CS gas in September.

“Your message undercut my directive and demonstrated a lack of forethought of the impact of conflicting information to the community during this volatile moment within our city,” read a memo released by the city Thursday night. “This reflects a serious lack of judgement on your part.”


Wheeler, who also serves as police commissioner, sent the note to Lovell on Sept. 11, one day after he had issued a ban on CS gas, a widely used form of tear gas. The Portland Tribune first reported on the memo shortly after Wheeler sent it.

The mayor’s chief of staff, Kristin Dennis, had discussed the ban “at length” with Lovell before publicly announcing it, Wheeler wrote in the memo.

But that didn’t stop the police bureau from publicly rebuking their boss.

In a lengthy statement released just hours after the mayor’s ban, the police bureau decried Wheeler’s order, arguing a ban on the gas would lead to more physical contact between officers and protesters. The police bureau argued that after months of nightly demonstrations for racial justice, the scrutiny should be on the actions of demonstrators, not officers.


“The community should be asking the rioters why they are committing violence that threatens the very lives of others nearby,” read the bureau’s release. “When people gather lawfully, peacefully, there is no need for intervention by police, much less the use of CS gas.”

In the Sept. 11 memo, Wheeler wrote that he expected Lovell to follow his directive and end the use of the gas effective immediately, or risk losing his job.

“If you do not understand any of these expectations, you are responsible for notifying me immediately so I can provide clarification,” he wrote. “Any failure to abide by these expectations will result in immediate action, up to and including termination.”

Lovell has been on the job since June. He stepped into the role after former chief Jami Resch stepped down at the onset of the racial justice protests.

The memo isn’t the only place Wheeler rebuked Lovell for the bureau’s defense of CS gas.

Public records show Wheeler texted Lovell at 1:20 a.m. on Sept 11 after the bureau posted the statement to their Facebook page, accusing the chief of rebelling against him.

“Chuck to post a statement on the Bureau’s official Facebook page opposing my direct order is insubordination,” Wheeler wrote. “Take it down.”

The bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.