Protestors stand near a line of police in riot gear on Franklin Street in Portland on June 2. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Some Portland city councilors are asking for an independent review of how police responded to last week’s demonstrations in the city, when officers used riot gear and pepper spray and made over 30 arrests over two days.

The Portland City Council will discuss whether to launch such a review when it receives a report from the police department later this month.

More than 1,000 demonstrators turned out on June 1 for what started as a peaceful protest but grew tense, with protesters blocking some streets and clashing with police. A similar protest a day later also led to some violence and a smaller number of arrests. Portland police were assisted by officers from more than a dozen departments, with officers donning riot gear and shooting pepper balls at demonstrators both nights. Officers also were stationed on rooftops.

The June 1 protest ended with several businesses being damaged or burglarized and many downtown buildings being defaced with graffiti, police said.

Most demonstrations against racism and police violence, both in Portland and in other Maine communities, have been peaceful. In some cases in Portland, police and city officials joined protesters in kneeling to symbolize the need to reform race relations in the country.

City Councilor Pious Ali said he heard conflicting stories about what happened at the June 1 demonstration and this week he asked City Manager Jon Jennings to investigate the incidents. Jennings told police to prepare a report to present to the council at a June 22 workshop meeting.

Ali later clarified that he wanted an independent report. Councilor Kimberly Cook joined in that request and said she also wants more information about an incident Tuesday in which police attempted to serve a summons on a critic of the police department.

City officials have since decided that any investigation should be a matter for the full council to discuss, Mayor Kate Snyder said. A council-appointed police oversight committee met Wednesday, but concluded it didn’t have the authority to hold police accountable for their actions, although members said the scope of their power should be expanded.

Ali said he will continue to push for an independent investigation, saying it’s needed to see if changes should be made to prevent a recurrence of the arrests and use of pepper spray.

Police in riot gear form a line across Franklin Street in the early morning of June 2. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The internal police report can be part of that, he said, but there needs to be some way to find out what demonstrators experienced that night as well to get a full, independent picture of what occurred.

“I can’t do that by listening to just one part of the story,” he said.

Snyder said the council needs to take public concerns into account as they look at what happened and determine if any changes need to be made in how police handle future demonstrations.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau said the council needs to be cautious as it considers what to do. As a legislative body, he said, the council doesn’t often investigate issues like the police response to demonstrations.

“I’m not opposed to having a third-party investigate,” he said, but “we’re kind of in uncharted territory.”

Snyder said she and city lawyers have been going through Portland’s charter to determine how they can authorize an investigation and what its scope could be.

Both she and Thibodeau said the case of the summons of the police critic will likely be in the hands of the courts soon and there’s probably no need for the council to get involved.

Cook has said a review of police bodycam footage of the officers’ visit to Christian MilNeil’s home would likely clear up questions, but police have said that evidence is now in the hands of the county district attorney and have refused to turn it over to the council or the public.

Police on Tuesday tried to issue a summons to MilNeil for allegedly writing graffiti on two city buildings. But MilNeil refused to accept the summons, instead posting messages and a photo on Twitter saying he believed the allegation stemmed from tweets he has posted that have criticized Portland police and policing in general. He has denied the graffiti allegation.

MilNeil said an officer told his wife, Jessica MilNeil, “I know for a fact you have your preconceived notions about police,” which led MilNeil to believe the incident was more about his tweets than any criminal allegation. The city has denied that the summons was motivated by MilNeils’ critical tweets.

Police Chief Frank Clark didn’t respond to a request for an interview Thursday evening about the summons and the allegations against MilNeil.

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