The city of Portland has hired an out-of-state firm to do an internal affairs investigation of the Portland Police Department’s response to an anti-racism demonstration held in June.

Clifton Larson Allen LLP, headquartered in Minneapolis, is expected to review the department’s response to a demonstration that began on June 1, 2020, and ended early the following morning. Some Portland city councilors had asked for an independent review of the police response, in which officers used riot gear and pepper spray and made over 30 arrests over two days.

The demonstration, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, drew dozens of officers from 18 surrounding communities. After the demonstration, police officials said it was unprecedented in size, with an estimated 2,500 people gathering in downtown streets. The demonstration, like others last summer, began peacefully but became violent later that night and several businesses were burglarized or damaged.

Police have said repeatedly that many of the demonstrators that evening assembled peacefully and left the area when told to do so, and that it appeared to be a smaller element in the crowd that desired conflict. More than 20 people were arrested that night, mostly for failing to disperse. The charges were later dropped.

The goal of the investigation is to “ensure the integrity of the department was maintained throughout its response to the protest,” city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said in a news release. Clifton Larson Allen LLP was one of two firms that replied to the city’s request for proposals last fall. The city, which allocated $40,000 for the investigation, will be provided with a report in three months.

When the City Council discussed the demonstration response in June, Councilor Pious Ali suggested an outside review because he knows that people in minority communities who do not trust government in general would not be likely to participate in a council-led process.

That same month, Chief Frank Clark and other department staff walked city councilors through an extensive, moment-by-moment dissection of the demonstration and used video from officers’ body cameras, surveillance tapes, still photos and audio from emergency dispatchers to show how police responded to the protest, which lasted more than five hours.

Police clash with protesters at the intersection of Franklin and Middle streets on June 1. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Police showed dramatic, intense videos in which officers were swarmed by demonstrators who pounded on cruiser windows. Other clips show a shower of water bottles and other items pelting officers – police said some bottles lobbed at officers contained urine. One clip showed demonstrators smashing the glass door of an Old Port business before jumping through to steal items inside.

Police used large, “fogger”-style canisters of pepper spray and air-powered pepper ball guns – similar to paint ball guns – to disperse the crowd, and dozens of officers were clad in riot gear and positioned in a line across Franklin Street next to police headquarters at 109 Middle St.

Demonstrators were critical of the police response, with one telling the City Council last year that the situation was chaotic and confrontational, and that police needed to do better at calming tensions. Nathan Allen of Limerick told councilors that the riot gear worn by officers felt like a provocation.

“They were ready for war,” Allen said. “I was talking to them. Some of them were really nice. But some of them were horrible. Some of them listened and some of them didn’t.”

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