The union representing commanding officers at the Portland Police Bureau has filed a complaint with the city’s human resources officer against city commissioners following public comments they’d made about Portland Police Bureau Lt. Jeff Niiya.

The Portland Police Commanding Officers Association (PPCOA) alleges Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Chloe Eudaly made public statements that violate a city administrative rule prohibiting workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

In an email to Serilda Summers-McGee, Lt. Craig Morgan with PPCOA said the union believes all three commissioners’ comments “were derogatory and hostile and damaged Lieutenant Niiya’s professional work environment.”

Last week, Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury broke news of text messages between Niiya and Joey Gibson, the leader of the group Patriot Prayer. The text messages added to an existing sense among some Portland activists that Portland police are more sympathetic to far-right groups such as Patriot Prayer than left-wing groups like Antifa.

Gibson is the organizer of rallies that have brought white supremacists to Portland. Those rallies often end in violence between opposing groups.

Wheeler, Eudaly and Hardesty have all called for an independent investigation into the messages. Wheeler has said he is disturbed by the text messages which appear to “unnecessarily encourage” Gibson. The three have also said the bureau should implement training on identifying white supremacy.

“Mayor Ted Wheeler’s statement about our communications with Patriot Prayer organizers is either disingenuous or shows willful ignorance of the situation,” Lt. Craig Morgan said in a release about the filed complaint. “Either way it shows that during his two years as Portland Police Commissioner he has failed to develop an understanding of even basic police work.”

In a press conference, Wheeler defended his statements about Niiya as appropriate, given the content of the text messages published last week. 

“On the whole, I’ve had — I believe — a very positive and a professional relationship with not only the leadership in the police bureau but the rank and file,” Wheeler said. “Are we going to disagree from time to time? Sure we are. This is obviously one of those times.”

PPCOA is also preparing to file a grievance against the city for allegedly violating the city’s labor agreement with the union, which says that if the city has reason to reprimand or discipline a commanding officer, “it shall be done in a manner that is least likely to embarrass the commanding officer before other employees or the public.” 

The union previously said it was disappointed in what it called Wheeler and Hardesty’s rush to judgment against Niiya. PPCOA has said Niiya was acting under direction from his managers, who told him to establish relationships with people who regularly plan demonstrations in Portland.

The union said Niiya’s communications with Gibson were within the bureau’s policy.