Sheriff's riot squad likely to step back from crowd control
Multnomah County will rein in use of its crowd control unit to police protests in the wake of the mass resignation of Portland Police Bureau's Rapid Response Team, a top union official says.
The informal commitment was made in response to concerns voiced by the county's 15-member unit, which bears the same name as the Portland RRT, said Sgt. Matt Ferguson, president of the Multnomah County Deputy Sheriffs Association, which represents the unit's members.
Ferguson said the concerns driving the informal change echoed those voiced by the Portland unit when its 50 members resigned from their controversial assignment on Wednesday, June 16: lack of support by Portland's leaders, and a feeling that District Attorney Mike Schmidt was more tolerant of rioters attacking police than of police who use force as trained and directed by management. (See story, Page A1; editorial, Page A6.)
Ferguson said the message came from managers that his members would only be deployed with great caution.
"We're probably going to greatly restrict our activities. ... I don't think it's in our members' best interest to go clear rioters from the streets," he said.
"The perception is violence directed at police is sanctioned in our community now: It is OK to throw rocks and bottles and stones at the police," he added. "One of our deputies had a mortar round explode in his face and knocked him unconscious. He lost his hearing for two or three days. He was in the hospital, and he resigned."
Asked about the change described by Ferguson, a spokesman for Sheriff Mike Reese provided a general comment. Communications Director Chris Liedle said the priorities of the office have not changed, but declined to say whether the office would continue to provide support for Portland police crowd control efforts as it has in the past.
"At the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office … our priorities have not changed. We will continue to provide exemplary public safety services to the communities we serve, protect County infrastructure, such as the Justice Center, which houses hundreds of adults in custody, and the many sworn and civilian staff who support and operate the facility, and to respond to incidents where there is a serious threat to life-safety."
Members of the sheriff's crowd control unit were said to be considering resigning from the unit in the immediate wake of the move by their Portland Police Bureau counterparts. It's unclear whether managers' message described by Ferguson represented an effort to prevent that.
Already, sheriffs in Clackamas and Washington counties have curbed their support of the Portland Police Bureau citing litigation around the protests.
A year of protests
The loss of trained crowd control personnel comes after a year of protests in Portland following the murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer.
The protests have frequently been followed by police declaring a riot in response to what they say are violent attacks on their ranks. Numerous officers have reported injuries.
The use of force as police disperse crowds, meanwhile, has led to controversies and several lawsuits.
Schmidt, elected on a platform crafted with help from national criminal justice reformers, has launched criminal investigations of several police officers in connection with protest response.
Last week he indicted one, Corey Budworth, for alleged assault against a woman who, in a subsequent lawsuit, has described herself as an photojournalist. Her federal suit, filed last September, said that after police pushed her friend to the ground, she tried to pull them up and away from police. Then Budworth struck her several times with a baton, even after she walked away and fell to the ground herself, according to the suit.
The indictment of Budworth followed a finding by the city's civilian oversight office that the officer's baton strikes had violated no bureau policies.
Ferguson said a brief video posted online lacks context of a "chaotic situation," but also his members' concerns go beyond the Budworth case.
Training had improved response
The sheriff's office had been a prominent partner, with the Oregon State Police, responding to expected unrest last November with Portland police.
For now the move means police response to future riots in Portland won't be by officers who've received special training.
Portland's RRT was developed more than 15 years ago to provide a more disciplined and professional police response in the wake of a series of poorly managed police responses on protests that led to payouts for excessive force.
With practices developed by former Assistant Chief Ryan Lee, considered a national expert in crowd control, the RRT was intended to lessen such incidents.
In recent years the state had offered crowd control training by PPB team members to other police agencies around the Pacific Northwest.
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