Wheeler rejects ICE employee demands, union says he's violated responsibilities
Mayor Ted Wheeler has rejected a call from the union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees to change police response policies and reimburse their members for lost wages and other damages — leading to another round of hostilities with the union.
Wheeler's decision to reject the union's request is just the latest in tensions stemming from what many have interpreted as the Mayor's hands-off approach to policing issues around the OccupyICEPDX protest unless they entailed an immediate threat to someone's life.
"We have asked Mr. Wheeler to retract his policy of only responding to calls from the ICE facility, businesses and residents when 'lives are in danger' or when there is 'immediate life safety concern,'" the union said in a statement on Thursday shared by its lawyer, Sean Riddell. "His refusal to renounce this policy violates his responsibilities as the Mayor and Police Commissioner, and is putting the lives and property of those working and living near the ICE facility in danger."
The union statement regarding Wheeler's handling of the protest follows similar attacks that have been made on Wheeler by President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress.
The matter began with a July 30 "cease and desist" letter from the union, first reported by Willamette Week, that threatened a lawsuit and complained that its employees were exposed to threats, harassment and "terror and lawlessness."
During the course of the protest, employees of a food cart also reported being threatened. Reporters reported being assaulted or threatened, neighbors complained of feeling unsafe, and ICE employees reported racist insults, according to assorted media coverage.
In all, nearly 60 police calls were associated with the protest, which lasted 38 days starting June 17. Of those, 16 led to police reports being written, according to the city.
More recently, Tribune obtained an Aug. 8 demand letter from the union, called the National ICE Council. The letter calls for Wheeler to change police response policies and compensate ICE employees for damages of more than $15,000 apiece.
Portland City Attorney Tracy Reeve responded on Aug. 15, according to the records obtained by the Tribune, indicating the city had no formal policy on responding only to immediate threats and that the city is committed to ICE employees' safety.
"The City and the Mayor are committed to the safety of ALL people in the City, including ICE Council members (as well as documented and undocumented immigrants). The City and the Mayor are also committed to protecting property rights and the right of the public to peaceably assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights," Reeve wrote.
"The City (through its Police Chief and command staff and under the policy direction of the Mayor) necessarily needs to exercise discretion in determining how to allocate law enforcement resources in the face of non-violent demonstrations, including non-violent civil disobedience."
The correspondence was obtained under Oregon's public records law. It's unclear what happens next, or whether the union will sue.
Below are excerpts from messages and public records referred to in the ICE union's statement today.
June 20, 2018 Wheeler tweet:
The policy being enacted by the federal government around the separation of very small children from their parents is an abomination. It is un-American. I'm glad to see the President seems to be reconsidering this very ill-conceived policy and I hope that happens forthwith. I drove by the demonstration yesterday, it seemed to be very peaceful and I was pleased to see that. I want to be very clear I do not want the @PortlandPolice to be engaged or sucked into a conflict, particularly from a federal agency that I believe is on the wrong track that has not fully lived American values of inclusion and is also an agency where the former head suggested that people who lead cities that are sanctuary cities like this one should be arrested. If they are looking for a bailout from this mayor, they are looking in the wrong place.
June 20 Capt. Mike Frome email to members of the Portland Police, per public records request submitted by Judicial Watch:
"The PPB will only respond to calls at the demonstration site that have an immediate life safety concern. When we respond, a supervisor must be one of the responding units. We are not to proactively patrol the area of the demonstration either."
June 21 Wheeler advisor Berk Nelson text message to Assistant Chief Bob Day:
"Here's where our office stands: The Mayor will provide strategic direction to PPB. He will not dictate tactics we will leave that to the expertise of PPB. In this case, the Mayor's strategic direction is for PPB to not get involved unless lives are in danger. If that direction changes it will be after a conversation between the Chief, deputy chief and the Mayor."
Wheeler July 31st response to ICE Council's Cease and Desist Letter:
"While Portland Police were not engaged in removing protesters from federal property, Portland Police made clear to Federal Protective Service officials that local law enforcement would respond to calls for service at the demonstration site that have an immediate life safety concern."
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