Mayor Ted Wheeler wants an investigation into why a Portland police officer regularly exchanged text messages with the leader of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer.

Willamette Week reported Thursday that a Portland lieutenant talked with and even coordinated with activist Joey Gibson. The Portland Mercury also obtained the text messages between Gibson and the officer. 

Gibson is the organizer of a series of rallies that have attracted white supremacists to downtown Portland and led to violence between right-wing groups and left-wing antifascists.

Wheeler said he is disturbed by the text messages which appear to “unnecessarily encourage” Gibson. He’s demanded an investigation by Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw.  

Some activists on the left have accused the Police Bureau of being overly sympathetic toward violent protestors on the right.

Police Lt. Jeff Niiya, the author of the messages to Gibson, was also in the news two years ago for exchanging many messages with an activist on the left who was eventually ostracized by other protestors.

Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said Friday that Niiya wouldn’t be involved with Rapid Response Team-related duties until an investigation is completed.

Portland police Lt. Jeff Niiya, right, with the police bureau's rapid response team at a protest in downtown Portland, Ore., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018.

Portland police Lt. Jeff Niiya, right, with the police bureau’s rapid response team at a protest in downtown Portland, Ore., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Outlaw also announced that a community listening session has been scheduled to discuss the matter. It’s set for Thursday, Feb. 21 at Maranatha Church in Northeast Portland from 6 to 8 p.m.

“It is imperative that we come together to hear people’s concerns and ideas,” Outlaw said in a statement. “2019 is a year for solutions. We would like for the public to have the opportunity to share with the Portland Police Bureau their ideas for how to move forward.”

Earlier this week, Wheeler failed to convince his colleagues on the City Council to keep Portland Police in the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force. Supporters of withdrawing city officers cited their distrust of Portland Police and the way they have treated protestors among their reasons for leaving the federal coalition.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a longtime critic of the Police Bureau elected last fall, called for an independent investigation of the text messages and the bureau’s relationship with white supremacist and right-wing groups. Hardesty led the push to withdraw from the terrorism task force. 

The union that represents Niiya said it was disappointed in what it called Wheeler and Hardesty’s rush to judgement against Niiya.

In a statement, Portland Police Commanding Officers Association (PPCOA) 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.

“Furthermore, the PPCOA believes the investigation will show Lieutanant Niiya always communicated with dignity, courtesy, and respect,” said Lt. Craig Morgan, the PPCOA president.