Federal Judge Restricts Portland Police Crowd Control, Suspends Officer

March 18, 2021 Updated: March 18, 2021

A federal judge this week ordered the Portland police department to stop using certain crowd control munitions as he suspended an officer accused of firing non-lethal rounds at demonstrators during a riot in June 2020.

Officer Brent Taylor must be removed from all crowd control events pending an internal investigation, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Marco Hernandez wrote in a 7-page ruling in Don’t Shoot Portland et. al v. the city of Portland the Multnomah County.

In addition, the Portland Police Bureau’s rapid response team’s top officers must undergo nine hours of training, all officers must complete a three-hour training regarding the use of force at protests, and no rapid response team grenadier shall use a less-lethal launcher in connection to crowd control until certain conditions are met.

The case was brought last year by Don’t Shoot Portland and two individuals after alleging police officers “responded with indiscriminate, unchecked, and unconstitutional violence” against protests, some of which turned violent, in Oregon’s largest city.

The group and persons asked the judge to stop the city from “using chemical weapons against them in order to suppress plaintiffs’ right to free speech.”

The judge in a June 2020 order noted that “violence and destruction have occurred” during some of the demonstrations but found many of them remained peaceful and that police at times fired tear gas at protesters without warning or provocation. He temporarily restrained police from using tear gas in most instances. He later restrained officers’ use of less-lethal munitions.

“While Defendant points to the destruction that occurred at the Justice Center on May 29, 2020, Plaintiffs offer evidence that tear gas was used indiscriminately in other instances throughout the city. In some of these instances, there is no evidence of any provocation. In others, individuals appear to have shaken fences and thrown water bottles and fireworks at the police. Either way, there is no dispute that Plaintiffs engaged only in peaceful and non-destructive protest. There is no record of criminal activity on the part of Plaintiffs,” the judge wrote.

According to an incident summary of the events of June 30, several hundred demonstrators began marching towards the offices of the Portland Police Association, a police union, blocking the road and soon launching projectiles at officers.

Workers board businesses as police confront protesters in Portland, Ore., on Nov. 4, 2020. (Kathryn Elsesser/AFP via Getty Images)

Demonstrators continued behaving illegally even after a sound truck advised them to disband or be subject to arrest or use of force, including munitions. The officers were battered with baseball-sized rocks and full cans when they later began dispersing the crowd.

Hernandez, an Obama appointee who was also appointed by former President George W. Bush, late last year said the city violated his previous order and held it in contempt.

In the new ruling, the judge included among the sanctions that the police bureau must recirculate copies of his restraining orders and require every bureau member to certify that they have read and understood each.

Police and other law enforcement officers have struggled since spring 2020 to contain ongoing protests and riots. Several took place last week, including a group that smashed windows before they were surrounded by officers.

Recent destruction prompted federal officials to order the re-erection of a security fence surrounding the U.S. courthouse in downtown Portland.

The ruling came as the city negotiates a new contract with the police union. They resumed negotiations in January after a break of nearly a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The contract was supposed to expire in June 2020, but city officials extended it by a year.

Association President Brian Hunzeker recently resigned after being linked to the leak of a police report that accused Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty of committing a hit-and-run. An investigation found she did not.

The police union’s executive board said Hunzeker “made a serious, isolated mistake related to the Police Bureau’s investigation into the alleged hit-and-run” and accepted his resignation.

“We apologize to Commissioner Hardesty for that mistake and will be reaching out to meet with her personally,” the group said. The union said it was bringing back Daryl Turner, the former head of the union, back to serve as interim executive director “to help our union rebuild trust within our membership, with City Hall and the Police Bureau, and with the community.”

Hardesty and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who oversees the police force, have called on a full probe into what happened.

“While I appreciate Mr. Hunzeker’s self-described act of accountability, I demand he give a full and transparent accounting of what he did and what his motivations were to Commissioner Hardesty and the public,” Wheeler said. “I call on him to do so immediately.”

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