People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Post Election Resistance and Arrests
Since Donald Trump was elected, Portland has been awash with street protests. The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has taken an offensive stance towards many of these actions. Portland Copwatch (PCW) spoke with ACLU Oregon Legal Director Mat Dos Santos (MDS) about the arrests, police tactics and his group's response.
PCW: A November 8 Mercury article quoted Captain Larry Graham saying "Nationally they're looking at us and they've asked us to do national training for national law enforcement." How does ACLU regard PPB's crowd control tactics?
MDS: We have criticized PPB for the way they engaged with protestors. They often used confusing crowd control measures, gave confusing directions, and seemed quick to deploy chemical munitions as well as so-called "less lethal munitions" like rubber bullets, which can actually be quite dangerous, and they are quick to show up with riot clad officers when there's really no reason to be in riot gear. We've told them that plenty of social science evidence shows the use of riot cops in situations that don't require them... actually just escalates situations and is likely to lead to more conflict with protestors than it is to defuse the situation. But PPB has this old school mentality ... [a] show of force, which they believe will pacify people through fear. That's not how the human psyche works, and there are plenty of studies that show it's wrong. Lots of other police departments across the nation have radically altered their approach to crowd control, either through litigation, where they were forced to by the courts, or because they embraced this notion their old tactics weren't working.
PCW: ACLU filed a class action suit for protestors who were 'kettled' (boxed in by police on all four sides) on June 4th (PPR #72). Over 200 people were held and only released after their ID's were photographed, though charges were made against fewer than 10 of them. What rights were abrogated in this action?
MDS: Front and center in our litigation is the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest. In order for you to be detained or arrested, a police officer needs to have either reasonable suspicion of a specific crime or probable cause to go get a warrant for your arrest. In a kettle where you ... have people who were clearly engaged in nothing other than protected First Amendment activities, there's no way that PPB had even reasonable suspicion that all 250 people were engaged in criminal activity. So they could not [legally] detain those people for an extended period. We also think it implicates First Amendment rights because when police act to suppress protest through use of force, people are less likely to protest... There's also the question of what they did with all the information they gathered when they took photographs, names and other identifying information because there are federal guidelines that require you not keep information unless it's reasonably related to a crime. There's also [a] state law that prohibits collection of information based on association or political beliefs [ORS 181A.250].
PCW: Could a court finding influence police use of such tactics in the future?
MDS: We've seen it time and again where court findings have an influence on policy. A victory in this case could change the use of kettling by PPB. We want to see them stop using mass detention as a means to engage with protestors.
PCW: Of 200 plus arrestees in the last year, only 12 have been convicted, 43 made plea deals, others await trial, but most cases were dismissed (Oregonian, November 5). Does this seem right?
MDS: The DA was quick to flip the narrative and say "Look, we made all these arrests but we never brought charges because we're only focusing on the most egregious crimes." Well, those arrests should never have been made in the first place. It's still a problem of the police quickly engaging in protests, [leading to multiple] arrests with insufficient evidence to support charges. If the DA could have brought charges against the rest of the 200 people they would have, because that's just the nature of being a prosecutor. The alternative story is they brought charges against 12 cases, and the other 180 weren't supported by evidence-- that is very chilling to First Amendment rights.
See a longer version of this interview: portlandcopwatch.org/PPR73/ protests_long.html
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.