The City Council got a report from the Portland Police Department regarding a Black Lives Matter protest June 1 that turned chaotic and violent with protesters throwing things at the officers and officers using pepper spray on several occasions to control the crowd. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

PORTLAND — Portland Police were caught off guard by the size of the Black Lives Matter protest on June 1 and were unprepared for the vandalism and attacks on officers, Chief Frank Clark said Monday.

Police for the first time used pepper spray for crowd control, Maj. Heath Gorham said, but did not use tear gas or rubber bullets as some had thought.

The protest, which started out with a peaceful crowd of 500 and grew to 2,5000, led to 23 arrests, mostly for failure to disperse.  More than 30 Old Port businesses were vandalized, looted or damaged, Clark told the City Council.

Some protesters tried to damage cruisers and others threw rocks, bricks and bottles of urine at officers, he said.

Because the department was not able to handle the protest on it its own, it relied on mutual aid from more than 15 other law enforcement agencies, including nearby police departments, state police and deputies from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, he said.

According to a report on the event from the city manager’s office and police department, “pepperballs were utilized by generally aiming low or towards the feet of people or groups in the crowd who were throwing things or otherwise posing a physical threat to officers or others, in order to disperse or back them up, after calls to disperse were ignored.”

In their presentation to the council, which included body camera footage and photographs, Clark, Gorham and Lt. James Sweatt ran through an hour by hour rundown of the event. The majority of people at the protest, they said, were there to vocally and peacefully protest, unlike those who were confrontational with police.

Clark said the department is looking at after-action reports to see what can be learned and what could have been done differently.  The department’s use of force committee next month will look at how force was used by officers during the protest.

Councilors said after the presentation that a third-party investigation, requested earlier by Councilors Pious Ali and Kimberly Cook, is still warranted to provide them with a necessary and different perspective of events and how the violence escalated.

The council is scheduled to meet Monday, June 29, to go over the goals of an outside review. Mayor Kate Snyder said councilors could also consider what next steps could be taken to look into policy and procedure changes for the police department and whether a third-party facilitator should be hired for community discussion about policing in the city.

Councilor Tae Chong said an independent review of the June 1 protest is critical in offering transparency about what happened that night.

Cook agreed and said it would show “the community we are listening.”

“There may be another way to look at this and learn from it,” Cook said. “We can all learn from an outside look at our actions.”

Councilor Nick Mavodones said while he’s open to a third party leading a community discussion about policing,  he heard “nothing this evening to cause me to indict our police department over the actions that happened a few weeks ago.”

Councilor Belinda Ray agreed. She said because there have been no formal complaints, she didn’t see why an independent review was necessary.

“I don’t understand the need for it,” Ray said.

Ali said he asked for the independent review not to “prove the police did something wrong,” but to allow the council to hear another perspective from the protest. The investigation could provide people who were not comfortable making formal complaints an opportunity to have their concerns aired.

“Let’s hear what’s out there that people were not comfortable bringing to us,” he said.

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