Wheeler orders independent investigation into police bias
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Friday evening that he will order an independent investigation into existence of bias in the Portland Police Bureau related to the demonstrations involving alt-right and anti-fascist protesters.
The Feb. 15 announcement follows the release of hundreds of text messages between between Lt. Jeff Niiya, the head of the PPB's Rapid Response Team, and Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson. Some appear to show the police favoring Gibson and his followers during multiple clashes with counter-protesters over the past two years.
"I have heard from the people of Portland. I agree we must do more to ensure that we adhere to the values affirmed by the resolution recently passed by City Council to condemn white supremacist and alt-right hate groups," Wheeler said in the Friday evening announcement, referring to a recently-passed resolution.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty had previously called for an independent investigation.
No details about the investigation were announced. But Wheeler said Police Chief Danielle Outlaw agreed with the need for such an investigation, and that they are going to implement training for the bureau around how to identify white supremacy, based on the recommendations of such anti-racist organizations as the Oregon Justice Resource Center, Council on American-Islamic Relations Oregon and the Western States Center.
"I'll be working with Chief Outlaw and community organizations in the days to come to solidify details," Wheeler said.
Just hours earlier, Wheeler said the text messages "confirm people's worse fears." The messages at times appear to provide tactical information to Gibson before and during his group's violent clashes with Antifa in downtown Portland. They also seem to show that police ignored arrest warrants for some of Gibson's followers.
"The reality is that these text messages confirm people's worst fears," said Wheeler. "They show definitely at a minimum a warm relationship between some of our police bureau members and some people in those movements and at worse a sense of favoritism."
'Feels like a rush of judgment'
The police union that represents Niiya said it was Niiya's job to establish relationships with known demonstration organizers.
Lt. Craig Morgan, president of the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association, criticized Wheeler's response to the release of the documents, saying the mayor's declaration "feels like a rush of judgment."
"I understand that it might appear one-sided and that Niiya is speaking more with Patriot Prayer than Antifa," said Morgan. "The reason it appears lopsided I think is because it's been more receptive from Patriot Prayer."
Wheeler told KOIN 6 News that Niiya has been reassigned. A public meeting is set to take place next Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Maranatha Church in Northeast to discuss the issue.
KOIN News 6 is a news partner of the Portland Tribune and contributed to this story.