The Department of Justice has charged a Montana man, Kermit Tyler Poulson, this week with attempting to extort Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler in a threatening post to Instagram.
Poulson is disabled, uses a wheelchair and may have been homeless at the time of the alleged crime.
The case was investigated by the Portland FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Portland Police Bureau.
Poulson’s arrest and indictment comes as civil liberties activists are campaigning to withdraw the city from the JTTF. They have gained a powerful ally on the City Council, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who was sworn into office this month. Hardesty is joining the ACLU and Unite Oregon next week for a public discussion on how to withdraw from the partnership.
In a meeting with reporters in December to defend Portland's involvement in the JTTF, agency leaders argued that working with Portland police officers makes it easier for FBI agents to assess — and often debunk — threats made by homeless people suffering from mental illnesses.
“The PPB has mental health professionals with whom they work on the regular basis,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Renn Cannon. “They have much more familiarity with the people on the street. They know the different players.”
Poulson allegedly sent the mayor a threat on Oct. 9 over Instagram with the intent to extort money from him, according to court records. The indictment in the case does not go into the specifics of the threat.
In November, a Portland police officer and an FBI agent interviewed Wheeler about Poulson’s threat, which involved a Molotov cocktail.
“Using social media to extort or threaten violence against any citizen is a crime. This conduct is unacceptable in any context and has no respectable place in public discourse. Threats of violence, both in person and on social media, are taken very seriously by federal law enforcement,” said Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
Poulson was arrested on a federal warrant in Missoula, Montana on Jan. 8 after he visited the police department to file an unrelated complaint.
If convicted, Poulson faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to the FBI, Poulson recently lived in Portland, but has no known permanent residence. Last May, Poulson was cited by TriMet for fare evasion, and listed his address as the Transition Projects Day Center.
In Missoula, Poulson appeared in his wheelchair for a brief court appearance. In past court filings, he’s indicated that he is disabled and has no income apart from social-security disability payments.
Poulson has a prior criminal record in Utah, where he was convicted of felony assault on a police officer.
He also has a long history of filing specious lawsuits in Montana. In 2017, a judge issued an order barring him from emailing or calling, or physically entering the District Court of Montana.