Wheeler: Texts between police, Joey Gibson are 'disturbing'
Hundreds of texts and emails, released by the Portland Police Bureau, seem to show a friendly relationship between Lt. Jeff Niiya and Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson.
The story was first posted by Willamette Week on Thursday, prompting Mayor Ted Wheeler to order an investigation into what he called "disturbing."
The Portland Police Bureau released a statement late Thursday night, along with a link to "all of the documents in their entirety" relating to text conversations between Niiya and Gibson. You can read the texts here.
The newly released documents show hundreds of texts between Niiya and Gibson during 2017 and 2018 when multiple protests, some of which turned violent, erupted between Patriot Prayer and Antifa.
In one of the texts, sent on Dec. 8, 2017, Niiya wrote to Gibson, "When you don't get intimidated and show you care they do it no reason to do it. And yes I don't think this will be a huge deal. I'm thinking it will be a lot like the last one. BTW, make sure Tiny has his court stuff taken care of. I was told on the radio at the Jamison Sq event he had a warrant. I told them we would not be arresting Tiny right now. So please be sure he's good to go before coming down."
Niiya is in charge of PPB's rapid response team that responds to protests -- raising questions about whether Portland Police helped Patriot Prayer avoid arrests.
In a statement late Thursday afternoon, Wheeler seemed to agree.
"The released text messages, which I learned about in today's Willamette Week, are disturbing," Wheeler said. "Community members have long expressed concerns about police bias during demonstrations. Incidents like this contribute to the distrust that so many people have about the Portland Police Bureau."
Continued Wheeler, "These text messages appear to cross several boundaries, The texts appear to unnecessarily encourage Joey Gibson, the leader of a group that perpetrates hate speech and violence."
Wheeler said he ordered PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw "to do a thorough investigation of this matter and report back to me expeditiously." Outlaw later released a statement saying she has directed an internal investigation.
City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty also released a statement and said she was not surprised.
"I am not shocked, and I am not surprised at today's reporting of Lt. Jeff Niiya's collaboration with Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson over text to provide aid and support for their hate marches. This story, like many that have come before it, simply confirms what many in the community have already known — there are members of the Portland police force who work in collusion with right-wing extremists."
She called on Wheeler and Outlaw to "take swift action" and added that she "will also be here to demand justice if that call is not met," Hardesty said.
The text messages between Niiya and Gibson take place before, during and after some of the high-profile protests that roiled the city in the two years since Donald Trump became president.
It's not clear whether Niiya or other PPB officials were talking with members of Antifa.
After news of the texts broke on Thursday, CAIR Oregon, the Oregon Justice Resource Center and Western States Center released a joint statement.
The groups called the report "just the latest news showing an inappropriate and disproportionate response to alt-right groups from PPB."
"Given this troubling pattern, it is time Portlanders heard from Chief Outlaw about the PPB's position on the resolution condemning white supremacy, white nationalism and alt-right hate groups that was unanimously passed by the Portland City Council last week. The Mayor and City leadership have made their position clear. But, given the central role PPB must play in deterring political violence, our communities need to hear from Chief Outlaw directly on whether she aligns with City leadership on this issue and how her department rejects hate and bigotry. Specifically, given a growing perception that the PPB or individual actors within law enforcement have allowed their sympathies for alt-right groups to dictate their professional behavior, we welcome a public statement from Chief Outlaw on how she intends to do to address this direct conflict with the values expressed by city leadership," the groups said.
In her statment, Chief Outlaw said, "The Portland Police Bureau has strong organizational values that encompass integrity and accountability. We have also pledged transparency to our community. I have directed an internal investigation to review the context of these communications and determine if any Bureau directives were violated. If anything is identified that is deemed outside of our values and directives, it will be addressed."
Also on Thursday night, the Portland Democratic Socialists of America called on Wheeler to relinquish his assignment as police commissioner "immediately" and assign the role to Hardesty.
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. You can read their story here.