The Portland Police Bureau on Tuesday sought to clarify an Aug. 4 incident that involved officers discovering a group with a “cache” of firearms on top of a parking garage downtown during a protest.
The new details recast statements that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Assistant Chief Ryan Lee made Monday about the incident.
The comments also raised questions about what Wheeler — who is also the city’s police commissioner — knew about the incident he used to argue publicly for the ability to dictate the time and place of protests if they pose a threat to public safety.
“Prior to the start of a scheduled demonstration, the Portland Police Bureau discovered individuals who had positioned themselves on a rooftop parking structure in downtown Portland with a cache of firearms,” Wheeler said at a press conference Monday.
Lee added Monday that police officers were concerned the men were in an elevated position over a large protest venue and seized their weapons for safekeeping.
“Those individuals were redirected,” Lee said, adding that the men were affiliated with the group Patriot Prayer.
Patriot Prayer’s leader, Joey Gibson, immediately questioned the account. He said an officer told him that a group had been stopped in a parking garage while on their way to the protest. He denied they’d been taking a tactical position in the garage, and said officers had allowed the men to store their guns in their vehicle.
A new, more detailed account released Tuesday by the Portland Police Bureau corroborates part of Gibson’s story.
But the bureau has yet to release any records related to the incident, and said there is no police report.
On Aug. 4, according to the bureau’s clarifying statement, officers encountered four individuals on the top floor of the parking garage. Sgt. Steve Andrusko spoke with the group and confirmed they had three rifles.
“The men told the sergeant they were going to stay at the garage and act as a quick extraction team in case any of their group was injured during the demonstration,” the police bureau statement said. “The men were compliant and allowed the sergeant to inspect the weapons.”
PPB said in its statement Tuesday that the men had concealed weapons permits. None of the firearms were loaded, PPB said. Three firearms were in cases, and one of them was disassembled.
After Andrusko consulted with a city attorney in the PPB’s incident command center, the officer told the men to put the weapons in a locked container in the back of a pickup and place the ammunition in a separate part of the truck, away from the firearms.
“After further review it has been determined that no firearms were seized or taken for safe keeping from the individuals in the parking garage, as police did not have lawful authority to do so,” the police statement said. “No arrests were made as no laws were broken.”
The bureau did not identify the four individual protesters involved.
According to the bureau’s statement, officers determined the men on the roof posed “no imminent danger to the public.”
The incident came to light publicly for the first time Monday, when Wheeler used it as an example of the escalating threat of violence from dueling factions fighting in the city’s streets over the past year.
The mayor’s comments mirror language in his proposed ordinance. While the incident did not yield a written police report, the city does appear to be concerned about the potential for armed factions to take elevated positions during protests.
Wheeler told OPB’s “Think Out Loud” on Tuesday that language in the proposed ordinance gives him the ability to close parking structures and other buildings.
“It gives the police commissioner the opportunity to close certain public buildings and that could, for example, include city and parking structures immediately adjacent to a large gathering or a large protest,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler added the city needed a new tool to address the protests involving groups like Vancouver-based Patriot Prayer and counter protesters.
“These brawls are becoming increasingly frequent and increasingly violent, and since we can’t legally prevent groups or individuals from coming to Portland — even if we know they’re coming to engage in acts of violence or vandalism — I’m proposing what I believe is a common sense solution to protect the safety and the property, the public,” Wheeler said.
The new ordinance would allow the city’s police commissioner to deem when and where groups with a history of violence can protest, according to a draft published Monday.
Wheeler told OPB that his statements Monday were based on the information he’d received from the police bureau, details that he said he learned for the first time that day.
The fallout is a self-inflicted wound for the city that’s trying to curb street violence.
Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner said the miscommunication shouldn’t have happened.
“The situation was not handled correctly,” Turner said. “What the ordinance is trying to do is protect citizens, but with misinformation out there, everybody would have anxiety based on misinformation.”
The mayor’s chief of staff said Wheeler hopes to introduce the ordinance by the end of October. Three members of the city council have put out statements saying they need more time to evaluate the proposal.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Dan Saltzman said he supports the measure.
“I fully support Mayor Wheeler’s effort to take this action and believe his proposed ordinance is an excellent proposal to best accommodate public expression and promote order,” Saltzman said in a statement. “Let us dispense with long protracted debates that will consume a lot of oxygen and lead us nowhere. Let’s take this reasonable action to protect all who live work and play in Portland.”