A Portland commissioner seeking control of the city’s police department apologized on Thursday for promoting a conspiracy theory that undercover police officers were the ones setting fires and committing other crimes during recent unrest.
“Sometimes I screw up. And yesterday was one of those days that—it was very emotional, and I made some remarks that were out of the context that I would have liked to put it in,” Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a Democrat, said in a virtual press conference.
Hardesty said she left a message with Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell but would have to think about whether Daryl Turner, an officer who serves as president of Portland’s police union, “deserves a phone call.”
“I’ll probably take the weekend and call him Monday, assuming things go well this weekend,” she said.
Hardesty issued a lengthy statement on Wednesday in which she apologized for “using unfounded claims and misinformation.”
Earlier in the day, she said at a virtual event: “I want people to know I do not believe that there are any protesters in Portland that are starting fires, that are creating chaos.”
“I absolutely believe that it is police action and they are sending saboteurs and provocateurs into peaceful crowds so that they can justify their inhumane treatment of people who are standing up for their right,” she added.
In an interview with Marie Claire, she also claimed that the Portland Police Bureau has “provocateurs” embedded with the demonstrators who are “starting the fires themselves so that they have justification for attacking community members.”
Lovell, who has remained mostly silent throughout the continuing mayhem in Portland, issued a statement saying Hardesty’s claim “strains credulity.”
“I am interested in seeing what evidence she has to support her accusations. I’m disappointed that an elected official would make a statement like this without providing specific facts to support it. This allegation is completely false,” he said.
Turner said Hardesty’s remarks showed she “is part of the problem in Portland.”
“Every one of the many videos we have seen confirms that small groups of rioters are starting the fires and trying to burn down buildings. Even a quick search of Twitter shows rioters setting the fires and boldly claiming responsibility,” he said in a statement.
“I have invited elected officials to stand at the front lines with our officers during protests. Neither Commissioner Hardesty nor any other City Council member has accepted that invitation.”
Pressed on her remarks during the briefing on Thursday, Hardesty admitted that some of the so-called protesters have set fires.
“Have protesters set fires? Yes. But what I know about protesters setting fires is that other protesters have put them out,” she said.
“The police or fire and rescue could not have gone in and put those fires out,” she added.
Hardesty oversees the city’s firefighters. The advocate for defunding the police recently pushed Police Commissioner Ted Wheeler to cede control of the police bureau to her. Wheeler on Monday said he would not do so.