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Review Faults Portland Police For Mass Detention Of Protesters


Portland police detained almost four hundred people during a protest last year but didn’t properly document the legal reasons for stopping them. 

That’s the conclusion of investigators with the city’s Independent Police Review Division. 

Thousands of people converged on downtown Portland Sunday, June 4, 2017, for a Trump Free Speech Rally and a series of counter-protests. The demonstrations came a little more than a week after the fatal stabbing of two men on a light-rail train by a man police say was shouting anti-Muslim slurs.

Police stopped people counter-protesting a rally by the so-called alt-right group Patriot Prayer on June 4, 2017. The mass detention lasted about an hour.

In a report published Thursday, IPR says the Portland Police Bureau has no clear policy regarding mass detention. 

“Currently, the Police Bureau has no written policy governing stops or other forms of temporary detention, including mass detentions. The Police Bureau also does not have a mass arrest policy,” the report states.

“The absence of a policy that addresses mass detentions and arrests presents risk for the City.”

IPR reviewed the incident after 27 community members filed complaints. 

The protest, which followed the fatal stabbing of two men on a TriMet MAX train by a man who’d made white supremacist statements, involved four different groups: alt-right protesters led by the group Patriot Prayer, counter-protesters affiliated with labor groups, the group Portland Stands United Against Hate and Antifa.

The mass detention, also known as a “kettle” or “box-in” took place when police surrounded and detained hundreds of protesters at Southwest 4th Avenue and Morrison Street after they had declared the protest unlawful and ordered people to disperse from Chapman Square.

Community concerns about the incident included police allegedly favoring the Patriot Prayer group over the counter-protesters, use of a detention tactic that swept up innocent bystanders and police photographing people without having evidence they had engaged in a crime.

IPR largely substantiated community concerns regarding the mass detention incident.

The review found that the tactic clearly swept up bystanders along with protesters, including journalists representing the Coos Bay World, Getty Images, The Oregonian, Willamette Week, Portland Tribune and Vice Media.  

The number of people detained was also higher than the Police Bureau had reported. Police individually photographed 389 people with their IDs during the mass detention.

The police bureau said it had stopped and detained the group to investigate disorderly conduct, but IPR found little evidence that officers had reasonable suspicion disorderly conduct was taking place prior to the mass detention.

“While video taken by police and community members during the early moments of the detention show a large group of marchers in the street and sidewalk on Southwest 4th Avenue, there were no videos or reports showing that marchers obstructed vehicles or pedestrians or any of the other elements required by the disorderly conduct statute,” the IPR said.

In a written response to the report, the Police Bureau said it started revising its crowd control policies after the incident in question.  

“The Bureau agrees that mass detentions should only be carried out under extraordinary circumstances and at the direction of the Incident Commander,” the response reads.  

The police bureau says it will release draft rules addressing mass detentions in July for public feedback and hopes to start implementing the new rules by October.

IPR also found that the Police Bureau kept the photographs it took of individuals with their IDs during the protest, even though most of those people weren’t arrested or suspected of any crime.

“The Police Bureau does not have a retention policy for digital image data, allowing for photos to be held permanently until staff are told to delete them,” IPR wrote.  

The Bureau said it agrees that it needs to develop additional policies regarding photographing people detained by police and said it will consult with the city attorney on the issue.

The ACLU of Oregon is suing the Portland Police Bureau over the tactics used during the mass detention.

IPR did not substantiate concerns that police had favored the Patriot Prayer group.

IPR did find examples of differences in how police interacted with the groups of protesters, but it didn’t find evidence that favoritism was at play.

A police lieutenant told IPR investigators that protesters in Chapman Square “were treated differently because Rose City Antifa lacked a hierarchical structure with a clear leader,” making it difficult to communicate with them.

IPR found evidence that supported that explanation. For example, the special events sergeant for Central Precinct attempted to contact all the groups organizing protests on June 4, IPR found.  

The sergeant had less success communicating with representatives of Antifa, according to the report: 

“During the event, the sergeant tried to remain in regular contact with all groups present, largely by text message. Patriot Prayer members and some counter-protestors exchanged multiple text messages with the sergeant. Antifa members were less responsive and exchanged fewer text messages. When the sergeant texted counter-protest organizers in Chapman Square to call attention to people throwing bricks and water bottles at police, the organizers denied it.”

The report also notes that community members believed that police were more aggressive at confiscating potential weapons from the protesters in Chapman Square, who were mostly affiliated with Antifa:

“Other community members objected to the Police Bureau confiscating property from protesters in Chapman Square, but not from the other groups downtown. An ACLU staff attorney observed police take “poles from signs” from the protesters in Chapman Square, while the those at the rally in Schrunk Plaza had “giant flag poles.”

The report suggests that those perceived differences might be explained by the fact that Federal Protective Police were largely responsible for monitoring security in Schrunk Plaza, a federal property where the Patriot Prayer group rallied, while Portland Police focused on Chapman Square, where Antifa gathered.

“This variation could be attributed to differences in federal and local policies regarding the seizure of property,” IPR wrote.  

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