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  Date: Tue, 19 May 2015
From: Portland Copwatch
To: Chief Larry O'Dea Subject: Observed apparent police misconduct, including excessive force, on May Day 2015

Chief O'Dea

We are profoundly disturbed by the police response on May Day 2015 in light of the discussions around de-escalation in Crowd Control that you had with City Council just a few months ago. Those discussions were part of a presentation by the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) which presented a report that, as we noted at the time, did not adequately address use of weapons in crowd situations.

While we recognize that the violence on May Day was far less than the deadly force used against yet another person in mental health crisis on Sunday, the lesser severity still does not make it justifiable.

We are objecting to the use of the following weapons on May Day, based on our own observations. Please note that we are not speaking on behalf of the event organizers, nor is this meant to be a comprehensive list. These weapons were nearly always used when there was no imminent threat of harm to officers.

--Use of pepper spray both against individuals and indiscriminately on crowds (including a Channel 8 cameraman, and one young woman in the mouth)*

--Use of batons

--Use of at least one flash-bang grenade

--Use of multiple "bang" exploding shotgun rounds.

The last two weapons were deployed when the Rapid Response Team (RRT) was attempting to retreat from the crowd, presumably having realized that their presence was escalating the situation. However, because they chose to leave using their motor vehicle personnel carriers, rather than on foot, the vehicles had to drive very slowly to avoid knocking officers off the sides. The crowd went down the street behind one of the vehicles. Though there was no immediate threat, that's when pepper spray was used on the crowd, followed by the flash-bang and then the multiple shotgun shells, all fired into the crowd. We've likened this to a magician trying to do a disappearing act by throwing firecrackers into the audience. Very dangerous.

(Not to mention that one officer fell off the back of one of the vehicles anyway.)

Our video shows that the people closest to the officers were not posing any threat, and in fact barely reacted to the explosive devices, while one of the RRT officers seemed surprised by the first "bang."

We also witnessed the pepper spraying of a young man on the bridge. News footage indicates this man was "flipping off" one of the RRT officers and though his hand was close to officers' faces, was not threatening or harming the officers. The response included one officer putting hands on, another officer using a baton to push, and yet another using pepper spray.

The other use of pepper spray at the event was in front of Pioneer Courthouse, where the police sound vehicle had put itself in the middle of a block, then was surrounded by protestors and had to be extracted by bicycle officers forcing their way through the crowd. Our video shows the woman who got sprayed was hit directly in the mouth, apparently by Sgt. Franz Schoening (#41832).
Like the shocking incident during the Occupy Portland protest in November 2011 which captured national attention, it boggles the mind that a supervisor would use such weaponry against someone whose "crime" appears to be expressing their opinons, and that in both cases the protestors were young women.

Several protestors ended up with burning eyes and skin and others (including some of us) with residual hearing issues due to the explosions. We're also hearing that some people may have been physically injured by the explosions.

In each case, the officers essentially put themselves into a position that they preumably believed would justify using force, something that is prohibited by the Directives.

The first part of the afternoon deserves comment for the unusual and appropriate responses of the police:

--There were no horses present.

--Even though the crowd veered off the permitted route, there was minimal police presence in the head of the crowd and almost none in the middle. There were no reports of confrontations with motorists or damage to property at the Justice Center or on the bus mall, showing this tactic is valid and works with a peaceful crowd.

--The Forensics Unit cameras were apparently not videotaping the whole march. This has been a point of contention for years, as PCW has noted the Bureau's recording First Amendment events when there's no suspicion of criminal conduct violates ORS 181.575.

However, the officers' ability to de-escalate seemed to end when the crowd got to the Burnside Bridge. There, officers cut off all traffic in both directions, which begs the question-- if traffic is cut off anyway, why not let the protestors onto the bridge? Then there's no confrontation with the cops. The crowd eventually left without much incident when the sound truck began announcing that the bridge would be re-opened for traffic.

The sound truck, incidentally, was supposed to be something to improve the old "ice cream truck" which had conventional loudspeakers mounted on top. The Bureau appears to have bought an LRAD system, which is a device created for military use that can be weaponized by focusing ear- splitting sounds in a narrow beam. We hope the Bureau's LRAD is not capable of such torture and that you will let us know one way or the other. In any case, the LRAD speaker system seems to be even more directional than the old one and only those who were directly in front of the vehicle could hear it clearly.

Overall, we again ask you why officers:
--(a) confronted protestors at the bridge, resulting in a standoff that included the use of weapons and blocked traffic, when the traffic snarl would have happened even without the confrontation;
--(b) drove the sound truck into a position where it had to be extracted, again prompting the use of force;
--(c) chose to get on vehicles to retreat rather than walking away, which led once more to the use of force; and
--(d) showed up to this event without visible nametags (we saw around 6 officers whose names were either blocked by equipment or not on their uniforms).

We did hear information that one officer was injured, but have never heard that officer's name nor any indication that the person causing the injury was being investigated, charged or arrested. Again, it seems that the response was collective punishment rather than resolving the one alleged crime.

We do not advocate violence by any parties, but also note here that our role at demonstrations is to observe police behavior. We leave it to others to debrief the actions of the crowd in general. Regardless, as noted here, even if there were objects being thrown at police, with little exception, the people we saw get sprayed or flash-banged were not threatening such actions.

We look forward to your response to this letter, as well as to the follow-up we sent you after our meeting earlier this year.

Dan Handelman, Regina Hannon, Carol Landsman, Mike Tabor and other members of
Portland Copwatch

* At least one of our members was also affected, minimally, by some of the "overspray" from this deployment, while standing on the sidewalk observing.

--Portland Copwatch
(a project of Peace and Justice Works)
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065 (office)
(503) 321-5120 (incident report line)


Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

Posted May 19, 2015

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