An outside review of the Portland police response to a June 1, 2020, demonstration and confrontation in the wake of George Floyd’s murder found that officers largely exercised restraint during a chaotic, unprecedented event.

It also highlighted how the vast majority of roughly 500 to 1,000 demonstrators who filled the streets outside the Portland police station exercised their First Amendment rights peacefully and without conflict, even working to stop or de-escalate tension and call out bad actors who threw bottles and bricks as the night wore on.

The demonstration, like others last summer, began peacefully. But it became violent later that night as police officers from surrounding agencies were called in to help. Several businesses were burglarized or damaged and more than 20 people were arrested, mostly for failing to disperse. Those charges were later dropped.

City Manager Jon Jennings said the review validated what he and other leaders believed was an appropriate response under extremely difficult circumstances.

“The report confirms the men and women of our police department performed their responsibilities under great duress in a professional and admirable way,” Jennings said in a statement. “I am very proud that the Portland Police Department long ago embraced being progressive in its approach to working with the community, and has been a leader in utilizing modern programs and best practices.”

The review was conducted for the city by Minneapolis-based consulting firm Clifton Larson Allen LLP to determine if the integrity of the Portland Police Department had been compromised during the response. The city allocated $40,000 for the investigation.

City councilors Pious Ali and Kim Cook were the first to call for an independent review of the police response after the demonstration, which ended with violent confrontations, arrests and vandalism. The councilors said there were varying accounts in the community about the police response and that residents, especially in minority communities, would be less trustful of an internal review by the city or the police department.

Cook, who left the council before the firm was selected, said Thursday she had not read the 64-page report and did not plan on commenting on it. Contacted Thursday night, Ali said he had not yet had a chance to read the report and declined a request for an interview.

Clifton Larson Allen LLP was one of two bidders that replied to the city’s request for proposals last fall. Its review was led by Frank Rudewicz, who has worked in law enforcement and has served as an independent investigator for a number of police agencies in the Northeast, according to the report.

The document is the culmination of months of interviews, review of public and confidential documents, police body camera and other footage, and videos recorded by demonstrators.

It found that demonstrators were largely young people, some teenagers, who were not affiliated with Black Lives Matter and were mostly students. It emerged organically and without the levels of advance planning and coordination with police that officers prefer. The local BLM chapter even urged its members to stay home until the group could organize its own demonstration, and BLM organizers did not agree with the student organizers who planned the June 1 demonstration.

The firm found that the demonstration was a mostly organic event that was loosely organized without central leadership.

In turn, police requests for cooperation before the demonstration were either rebuffed or unsuccessful, meaning officers had little information about where demonstrators would go or what they planned to do. The resulting police response seemed disorganized to those who were interviewed, and the mishmash of agencies meant some officers showed up in full camouflage and tactical gear, while others wore regular uniforms or incomplete riot equipment.

In comparison to other cities, Portland’s focus on facilitating First Amendment speech represents a best practice that in this case was difficult to achieve. In other cities, the report says, police have focused on stemming disorder, and used far more coercive methods, including mass arrests, physically corralling and controlling demonstrators and more indiscriminate use of less-than-lethal crowd control methods, and the police could have arrested far more people but chose not to.

From the perspective of police, the events presented “an incident of first impression” that presented an extraordinary policing challenge, the report said.

In all cases, the use of force by police was found to be appropriate and the orders given by commanders for the crowd to disperse were lawful and in line with policy, the review found. Pepper spray foggers, deployed from large spray cans, were used multiple times and were successful in creating space between police and demonstrators. But in at least one case, an internal affairs review questioned the reasonableness of the deployment, and a review by the firm of footage showed a premature use of pepper spray aimed at one person.

At no time did police deploy tear gas or rubber bullets. It’s unclear if the after-action evaluations and internal reviews resulted in any disciplinary measures or retraining for specific officers.

But officers did fire pepper ball rounds, a tactic that in each instance was pre-approved by incident commanders, with the less-than-lethal force directed only at people who were acting violently, the report said.

One officer from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s office used a so-called foam “baton round” aimed at one person throwing an object from the back of the crowd; other agencies also reported multiple uses of their wooden batons. There were no official complaints filed in relation to the demonstration.

Portland police reported only one injury during the arrests, a woman who reported pressure on her neck and a scraped knee, but police did not document that injury and no supervisor interview took place.

During the evening, multiple events ratcheted up tension between the crowd and police, some of which predated the demonstration.

For instance, for days before the demonstration, police removed a series of memorial signs and banners dedicated to racial justice and George Floyd from the department steps at 109 Middle St., an act that demonstrators interpreted as a direct insult.

“They felt that it was a deliberate attempt to ‘silence their voice,'” the report found.

Demonstrators interviewed believed that some police tactics and use of equipment needlessly increased tensions. Although police documented vandalism and burglary in the city, the review found that those incidents were not connected to the core racial justice demonstration that brought people together that night.

One turning point of the evening was nightfall, with both police and demonstrators reporting a palpable change in the mood among the crowd. Once the sun set, police reported having physical contact with people on the street, with some throwing rocks and water bottles, some of which contained urine. Multiple businesses were burglarized, and at one point, mulch in front of the police headquarters was set alight.

But the review found that according to people interviewed, the looting and destruction was not a planned part of the demonstration, and was likely caused by unaffiliated individuals who exploited the situation to cause havoc.

Another inflection point came about an hour later, around 9:30 p.m., when a tractor-trailer drove into the crowd on Middle Street. Officers wrote in their reports that demonstrators pulled the driver out of the cab and from behind the wheel. But body-worn camera footage clearly showed police immediately taking the driver into custody, with some demonstrators even encircling them to allow them to make the arrest unencumbered.

“Multiple police incident reports describe only an angry and aggressive crowd surrounding the driver, but the (body-worn camera) footage shows a number of protesters linking arms and forming a line, telling other protesters to ‘give (the police) time to do their job,'” the report found.

The truck incident seemed to “energize” both police and people in the street.

In other interviews, demonstrators said that police held what some thought was an arbitrary line across Franklin Arterial where commanders released multiple rounds of pepper spray into the mostly peaceful crowds directly in front of them in response to bottles and items thrown from other parts of the crowd. While some people engaged with police at the line in a confrontational manner, others were permitted to walk around the line.

The report also highlighted gaps in the police response. In addition to officers deploying pepper spray on peaceful protesters, an internal evaluation by the department found that the Portland Police field force team had not trained in nearly four years, and many of its squad leaders or other key players had moved on or left their roles.

Because demonstrators refused to coordinate with police and the city, police were forced to react on the fly, including when demonstrators split into three groups and moved around the city independently, sometimes engaging with more isolated police.

Police also reported how demonstrators surrounded and encroached on their vehicles and pounded on them, presenting serious safety risks to officers. Some demonstrators even attempted to push into the courtyard of the department, moving barriers and pushing toward the building entrance.

As he did immediately after the demonstration, Chief Frank Clark this week lauded the men and women of the department for their performance under extreme duress, and said he hopes the report “will only bolster our community’s trust and confidence” in the department.

“As noted last year, these officers have my full faith and support, and I was extremely proud of the way our staff faced some trying and unprecedented circumstances and violence with discipline, restraint and professionalism,” Clark said in a statement released by the city. “I remain honored to be part of such a professional and progressive organization. We’ll continue to seek out best practices, hold ourselves accountable, and do our jobs with overarching integrity, as we strive to protect the public and each other.”

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