Federal law enforcement officials have refused Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s demand to revoke their deputization of city police to help quell violent protests, saying local authorities have failed to deter attacks on officers.
“Officers have been repeatedly assaulted with bottles, bats, sledgehammers, lasers, rocks and other weapons of convenience,” US Attorney Billy Williams and US Marshal Russ Burger said Wednesday in a statement. They added that “violent, senseless and criminal acts” have been committed during three months of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests in Portland, including attempts to burn down public buildings.
Rioters have been able to attack police with impunity because they aren’t held accountable by local leaders and prosecutors, Williams and Burger said. “Portlanders and Oregonians in general are sick of the boarded-up buildings and dangerous conditions prevalent in downtown Portland due to a lack of leadership,” the statement went on. “We call upon citizens of this city and state to denounce violence, demand accountability and work together to end the violence.”
The Trump administration began federally deputizing some state police in late July after an agreement with Governor Kate Brown to protect federal property after pulling out Washington’s law enforcement teams. The move was designed to provide a measure of accountability because state police were then able to arrest rioters on federal charges rather than turn them over to be released without prosecution by Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt.
Federal deputization was expanded to most of the Portland Police Bureau’s crowd-control unit, including 56 officers, ahead of a right-wing demonstration in the city last weekend. With fears of dangerous clashes between demonstrators and counter-protesters, the idea was that federal charges would allow for harsher penalties against members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing protesters if they committed crimes.
But Wheeler may have miscalculated in thinking that the deputizations would only apply for last weekend, until a state of emergency declared by the governor was lifted. City Attorney Tracy Reeve said in a letter to Williams that with the emergency declaration ended last Sunday, the city “withdraws its consent to this deputization effective immediately.”
But unbeknownst to Wheeler, the deputization designations were made through the end of this year and couldn’t be revoked without approval from Williams. The same deputizations were applied to 22 Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
Williams and Burger said cross-deputizations wouldn’t be canceled for any local or state officers. “Law enforcement and law-abiding citizens of Portland have endured months of nightly criminal violence and destruction,” they said. The Feds have indicted dozens of alleged rioters, including some who had been released by local prosecutors.
Wheeler has blamed President Donald Trump for causing the violence by “creating hate and division,” but anarchist riots continued long after federal forces were withdrawn from the city. The violence has been so severe that Wheeler announced earlier this month that he’s leaving his upscale home in the Pearl District after protesters firebombed his condominium building.
The acrimony between local and federal governments reached the point that the city fined the federal government more than $500,000 for erecting a fence outside the US courthouse in Portland to help defend it from arson attempts and other attacks. The fine was $528,000 as of August 3 and was increasing by $48,000 for each day the fence stayed up. The fence blocked a bike lane, creating a public hazard, a city official said.
Oregonians have been frustrated by the seemingly never-ending demonstrations. Two-thirds of Oregon voters disapprove of the protests in Portland, according to a poll done earlier this month by DHM Research. A poll of Portland Police Bureau employees found that 62 percent of respondents wanted the federal deputizations to be expanded to all officers, and 34 percent wanted the existing deputizations to be maintained through December. Only 4 percent wanted the deputizations to be revoked immediately.
Twitter users cheered the decision to keep the federal deputizations in place. “This man has caused enough damage,” one commenter said of Wheeler, adding “The less he has a say in things, the safer all Oregonians are.” Another said, “Bet he tries to circumvent it by firing those officers deputized. What a scummy mayor.”
Good, this man has caused enough damage. The less he has a say in things the safer all Oregonians are.
— Garrett Plank (@CaptainAutism22) September 30, 2020
Bet he tries to circumvent it by firing those officers deputized.what a scummy Mayor!
— NO Name needed (@AZJeepGuy1995) September 30, 2020
Author Douglas Karr found it astonishing that assault on an officer would be treated differently based on a jurisdictional issue. “Assault is assault,” he tweeted. “They should all go to jail for a long time.”
It’s bizarre to me that an assault on a law enforcement officer would be treated any differently depending on what department the police belong to. Assault is assault, they should all go to jail for a long time.
— Douglas Karr (@douglaskarr) September 30, 2020
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