Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has acquiesced to calls from two city commissioners to hold an independent investigation into text messages between a police lieutenant and Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson.
Wheeler said he'll make sure Portland police receive training on how to identify and respond to white supremacy.
On Thursday, Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury broke news of text messages between Lt. Jeff Niiya and Joey Gibson, the leader of the group Patriot Prayer.
Gibson is the organizer of rallies that have brought white supremacists to Portland and ended in violence between right-wing groups and antifascists.
But close observers of the police bureau say some of the messages may have crossed a line. And they added to an existing sense among some activists that Portland officers are more sympathetic and lenient with protestors from groups such as Patriot Prayer than ones such as Antifa and Don’t Shoot PDX.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said she’s particularly troubled by a message in which Niiya warned Gibson about an arrest warrant for a member of his group.
“I’ve never seen that kind of communication with other protesters certainly not with Black Lives protesters, or when people are protesting against police violence,” she said.
Some activists called on Wheeler to turn over day-to-day management of the police bureau to Hardesty, who campaigned on a promise of police reform and this week fulfilled one of her campaign's core promises when the City Council voted 3-2 to remove Portland officers from the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Hardesty and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly didn’t go that far. But they did call on Wheeler to order an independent, outside investigation into the messages and, more broadly, how the bureau responds to white supremacy and political protests.
Initially, Wheeler, who called the messages disturbing, asked Police Chief Danielle Outlaw to investigate the messages. But on Friday evening, he went further, promising an outside investigation and to ensure that Portland officers get more training on white supremacy.
Niiya has been removed from his role on the bureau team that handles protests. Lt. Craig Morgan, the president of the union that represents commanding officers within the bureau, said Niiya had direction from the mayor and police chief to develop relationships with protesters.
“One of the ways we get ahead of these events is to build rapport with folks so we can gather information, so we can then figure out how we’re going to handle these protests,” he said.
Morgan said Niiya did try to develop relationships with protesters on the left but they generally didn’t text him back.