U.S. prosecutor rejects Portland mayor’s request to end federally deputized police officers


A Portland Police officer watches protesters rallying at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Allison Dinner)

PORTLAND, Ore. (NewsNation Now) — A U.S. prosecutor in Oregon on Wednesday rejected a request from Portland’s mayor to end the federal deputation of dozens of police officers as part of the response to ongoing protests, saying it was the only way to end “lawlessness.”

In a joint statement, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy J. Williams and Russ Berger, the U.S. Marshal in the state, explained why they refused Mayor Ted Wheeler’s request:

“Law enforcement and law-abiding citizens of Portland have endured months of nightly criminal violence and destruction. Officers have been repeatedly assaulted with bottles, bats, sledgehammers, lasers, rocks, and other weapons of convenience.  In addition, the public has seen repeated efforts by criminals to burn down public buildings.  These violent, senseless, and criminal acts have no bearing on social justice.  They only serve to exacerbate lawlessness in this city.  Federal cross-deputation of Oregon State Police, Multnomah County Sheriff and Portland Police Bureau personnel underscores the importance of providing accountability and deterrence for these criminal acts.”

On Tuesday Mayor Wheeler said he had asked the U.S. attorney’s office to withdraw the designation that deputized the officers.

Deputizing the Portland officers gives federal prosecutors the option to charge anyone arrested by those officers with federal crimes, which often come with more severe penalties than the state crimes for which local police usually make arrests. It also allows law enforcement a route around Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s decision not to file state charges against hundreds of protesters arrested for lower-level and non-violent offenses, a policy that has angered some in the law enforcement community.

Portland has seen protests almost every night since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. Many of them have ended as riots with some demonstrators vandalizing police and other government buildings, setting fires, shining lasers into the eyes of police, and throwing objects at officers.

Last week, violence escalated when rioters hurled three firebombs into a line of advancing police officers.

Wheeler has declined offers of assistance from federal law enforcement and Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, has declined to call up the National Guard. Trump sent U.S. agents from the Department of Homeland Security to guard a federal courthouse in July, setting of two weeks of intense protests and clashes with federal authorities in a two-block area of downtown. Those agents withdrew in late July, however, after a deal brokered by Brown that saw Oregon State Police take over crowd control.

Williams and Berger’s statement also said law enforcement needs more back-up.

“Importantly, the federal deputation supports front line law enforcement officers and their families in a way that they have not seen from City Hall.  Portlanders, and Oregonians in general are sick of the boarded-up and dangerous conditions prevalent in downtown Portland due to a lack of leadership. We call upon citizens of this city and state to denounce violence, demand accountability, and work together to end the violence.”

Fifty-six Portland officers were deputized before a rally in the city last weekend by the far-right Proud Boys group. Portland city officials apparently did not know that their officers’ federal deputization status would last until the end of this year.

In an email to the U.S. attorney’s office obtained by Oregon Public Broadcasting, Portland city attorney Tracy Reeve wrote that city leaders had been under the impression that the deputization would end with the termination of the governor’s state of emergency declared only for last weekend’s protests, which ended Sunday evening.

Protests in Portland continued overnight Tuesday.

Authorities said arrests were made after police told people not to go on the property of a public safety building and officers towed a vehicle that had shields, helmets, gas masks and paintball guns that demonstrators may have planned to use.

Two juveniles were detained and released and a man was arrested on a charge of interfering with a peace officer, disorderly conduct, trespass and escape, according to police.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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