Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel announced charges Thursday linked to violence at political events earlier this month, but those charges were far short of what Bend police recommended.
The cases reveal starkly different reactions from Central Oregon law enforcement agencies to a confrontation between supporters of President Trump, racial justice demonstrators and Bend police officers at Pilot Butte Neighborhood Park on Oct. 3.
Among those facing prosecution: two men caught on video punching people, a man seen pointing a loaded gun, a woman shown macing the gunman after he put it away, and two women recorded hitting officers in the aftermath of a brawl, which police said was sparked by a man who allegedly broke a $20 Trump flag off a truck.
Punches, taser, mace. Bend demonstrations turn violent after someone snatches a trump flag pic.twitter.com/gzTCbATWcv— Emily Cureton (@emilycureton) October 3, 2020
The seven people facing charges are far fewer than police had sought, pointing to tensions over how Central Oregon should address racial justice concerns connected to a national uprising over the summer.
Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz broke norms last week by publicizing an anonymized list of recommended charges against 15 people, many of them racial justice activists. Public outcry at a Bend City Council meeting the next day focused on how the recently hired chief is handling social unrest in a city with few protests and a population that is 93% white.
Hummel declined proposed charges against people who sprayed mace to break up the fighting or defend themselves. Nor is he charging people who used their bodies to block a police cruiser from leaving the scene and then dog-piled on top of a woman to stop officers from moving her out of the way. The DA also declined to charge racial justice activists who led a large crowd to block traffic for a few minutes outside of police headquarters at a subsequent protest on Oct. 4.
‘We’re not on a different page’
Krantz moved into Bend’s top police job in August, after decades with the Portland Police Bureau. At the time, Hummel criticized the hire because of PPB’s frequent use of tear gas and crowd control munitions against protestors. But Hummel said his decision not to follow all of Krantz’s charging recommendations doesn’t mean there’s a rift.
“We’re not on a different page,” Hummel said. “This is the system working.”
Still, he responded to Krantz’s unusual public information move in kind, releasing more than 200 pages of police reports with the charging decisions. The reports detail how more than two dozen officers viewed an event that’s become a lightning rod for their new chief.
“I was concerned to see the extent of the surveillance of Black Lives Matter, social justice people’s social media. I did not see that same level of surveillance for people who support President Trump or were part of the Trump caravan that day,” Hummel said.
“I think it’s good police work to look into the people who are organizing these events … But when you choose one group of people to do it for and you don’t do it for another group, that’s concerning,” he added, noting that police repeated a false narrative about how the groups came to be at that particular park at the same time.
According to a report by Bend police officer Eric Russell: “Bend PD … had been contacted by the coordinator of a Trump Support Rally. This was a preplanned event at the location.”
But, in a press release Thursday, Hummel laid into the Trump rally organizer for changing the event’s meetup point to intentionally collide with a picnic already announced by racial justice groups: “[Nicholas] Dieringer’s decision was provocative, ill-advised, and was the precipitating act that resulted in ... an awful day in Bend,” the district attorney wrote.
Dieringer, who regularly posts prank videos on his YouTube page, sent social media messages claiming the Proud Boys would be at the event but later denied the frequently violent far-right group was coming. He has not been charged with any crimes.
Police response, or lack thereof
Police reports describe a chaotic scene with a series of escalating retaliations at the Oct. 3 event.
Officers blame the chain of events on a suspected “flag thief,” Garrett Gerdes, who was chased down by a group of men after he took the Trump flag. When some of his pursuers threw punches, other people used stun guns and mace. Just as events had begun to calm slightly, a man whom police identified as Jake Strayer jumped out of his truck to move toward the scene of the fight, leaving it in gear as he touched the gun on his hip, yelling: “You put pepper spray on me, there will be a hole in you. Copy that?”
The unattended truck began to roll into a car behind it, prompting two people to push and then try and get in the vehicle to stop it before a collision. The people moved to the driver’s side to reach the brake. Strayer then pointed the loaded revolver at them, according to witness accounts detailed in the police reports. Two protesters pepper-sprayed Strayer. One of those people faces charges for rushing in after police say the threat was over. No one was arrested at the scene.
How police handled the gun incident appears to have led to further tensions that day.
Officers interviewed Strayer, who denied pointing a gun at all. Footage from the scene shows Strayer’s truck with a Three Percent militia sticker on the glass. A man who contacted OPB and claimed to be Strayer said: “I belong to no militia. I am a Patriot and a fisherman. I was surrounded by armed assailants advancing toward me and entering my vehicle that day.”
When asked why he initially told officers he didn’t point a gun, the person claiming to be Strayer replied: “I have no recollection of my police interview aside from giving my personal information.”
No one was arrested at the time, which police say was “due to the overwhelming number of rally members and counter-protestors.”
“It was determined not to take anyone into custody for the safety of all officers and citizens at the park,” Russell wrote in his report.
But as the police gathered statements, agitation escalated: “There was a constant state of yelling and cursing at police officers … calling officers pigs, fascists, white supremacist and racists,” Bend police officer Kyle Denney wrote.
“[A] woman then ran up to multiple officers and yelled ‘fuck you’ approximately 6 inches from each of our faces. She was not wearing a mask,” he wrote, describing a moment OPB filmed.
The unrest grew as the officers did not respond when repeatedly asked to denounce white supremacy. The confrontation took place two days after the first presidential debate, when President Trump was asked the same question, and then addressed Proud Boys directly, telling them to “stand back and stand by.”
Bend police attempt to make an arrest. Drag woman away. Protestors dog pile to stop them. Police withdraw. pic.twitter.com/MgrkqBG0pO— Emily Cureton (@emilycureton) October 4, 2020
“I was disheartened to see, to learn that numerous Bend police officers were asked to denounce white supremacy and they declined to do so,” district attorney Hummel said. “I encourage the officers to find their voice … and I would like to see the police chief encourage them to do so.”
Krantz has praised the police response to the Oct. 3 confrontation.
“It’s important that officers who are on scene during those events not really talk about politics, white supremacy, racism or Black Lives Matter. Their job is to ensure safety,” Krantz said in a recent interview.
When pressed on why it’s political to denounce white supremacy, he said, “It’s been tried by different sides to make that political. I don’t think it’s a political question. I think it’s a question of human respect.”
Calls to 911
Krantz has weathered local criticism since before he even started work in Bend. Then, during his first week on the job, a spontaneous protest stalled a federal immigration arrest in the city, thrusting Krantz into the national spotlight. Krantz, who left the Portland Police Bureau during a tumultuous period of ongoing protests, says people who engage in civil disobedience should be prepared to be arrested, “whatever their cause.”
One of the primary functions of the police is to prevent crime, Krantz said, and protests make that especially challenging because officers must respect people’s rights to assemble and openly carry guns while remaining neutral to politics and personal insults.
“Frequently people ask us to be their referees. They want us to take sides … And that is not our role at all,” Krantz said.
But critics of the department claim officers did take sides. Demonstrators from several racial justice groups said the police failed to prevent violence at Pilot Butte by ignoring pleas for help that day.
Emergency dispatchers recorded six calls for service to the Pilot Butte park before the violence. Three of them describe people at the Trump rally drinking alcohol. A caller complained about a motorcyclist revving around the parking lot. OPB observed the man drinking beer. After he crashed on his bike, an officer contacted him, got his name, and left. The same man would later chase down the “flag thief” and be involved in the physical fighting. He wasn’t charged, however, because Hummel said he couldn’t determine if the man intended to punch someone or just fell over trying to move past them. Court records show the man has a history of alcohol-related crimes, assault and a conviction for criminally negligent homicide.
Officers who responded to the calls to Pilot Butte did not have probable cause to do field sobriety tests, Krantz said.
“If someone is drinking a beer or two that doesn’t give us probable cause to arrest,” he said. “We’re not a zero-tolerance agency when it comes to trying to coordinate a safe response to protest events.”
The group of racial justice activists who were picnicking in the park said the lack of the police response, even after calling 911, put them in danger.
“[The police] put the citizens in charge of stopping something from actively getting worse and that’s not our job,” said Luke Richter, the 28-year-old president of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, one of several local racial justice groups that formed after George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police. The group is a self-styled security force for protests, though Richter said they haven’t carried guns to events.
“I’ve never had so many guns pointed at me before. I’ve never had this many death threats come at me before. And then on top of that, I’ve never had somebody just blatantly say, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do about it. So, just kind of deal with it,’” he said.
Police sought charges against Richter for “riot,” and using bear spray to break up two fights, without directing it at any particular aggressor. The fumes drove people away indiscriminately, and Richter’s allies choked on them, too. Hummel declined to prosecute him, saying he acted in defense of others.
Richter is among those calling for the police chief to resign, but he does want Bend to create an independent oversight committee to review allegations of police misconduct. Krantz shot down that idea, saying, “so far every civilian oversight board I’ve seen has been dysfunctional.”
Portland, Krantz’s previous department, has a civilian oversight board that is criticized, not for its dysfunction, but for its lack of authority to enforce decisions against officer conduct.
The chief said he’s open to new approaches, but that it’s “not productive to stand in front of a crowd of a hundred people yelling KKK... and F- the police.”
“The vast majority of people, I’d say 90% say, ‘You’re doing exactly what we want you to do as a community, move forward with that. You’re doing great work,’” Krantz said, referencing a recent public survey the city did on policing.
Bend City Manager Eric King is the chief’s boss, and said he’s gotten a different message from the recent protests and instances of violence.
“The message is we need to do a better job of sharing power and creating a better system with more access for voices that traditionally haven’t been heard,” King said.
The District Attorney’s charges against people involved in the Pilot Butte incident are as follows:
- Jake Thomas Strayer, 42, one count of unlawful use of a weapon, two counts of menacing, and two counts of pointing a firearm at another
- Michael Green, 44, three counts of assault in the fourth degree, one count of disorderly conduct in the second degree,
- Garrett Lee Gerdes, 23, criminal mischief in the second degree and theft in the third degree.
- John Wells Jr., 38, harassment
- Nutasha Nicole Duran, 32, one count of unlawful use of mace in the second degree
- Adriana M. Aquarius, 21, one count of harassment
- Stephanie VanKlootwyk, 50, one count of harassment