Inmates at Multnomah County's Inverness Jail in Northeast Portland took over Dorm 11 for nearly three hours early Monday night, Feb. 8, even as authorities are fighting an outbreak that has resulted in one-fifth of the occupants of the 512-bed facility testing positive for COVID-19.
The confrontation, which inmates called a protest and deputies dubbed a "riot," reportedly began shortly before midnight, Sunday night, Feb. 7 running past 2:30 a.m., Monday morning as inmates threw furniture at deputies. At least one inmate engaged in a struggle with deputies as the inmates took control of the dorm, a medical unit housing approximately 60 inmates.
Two deputies suffered what are being described as minor injuries.
A spokesman for Sheriff Mike Reese, Chris Liedle, described events as follows:
"Late Sunday night, around 11:40 p.m., Multnomah County Sheriff's corrections deputies reported a disturbance in a dorm at Inverness Jail involving several adults in custody. The disturbance began when corrections deputies asked adults to return to their beds for the night. Several individuals refused. Two were escorted out of the dorm without incident. When deputies attempted to escort another individual out of the dorm, the individual resisted and a struggle ensued.
"During the disturbance, a Taser was deployed as well as pepper foam. This resulted in a disturbance that required additional response from the Correction Emergency Response Team (CERT). When CERT deputies entered the dorm, the adults had already returned to their bunks. The situation was resolved quickly without any additional use of force.
"There were no reported injuries among adults in custody. Two deputies sustained minor injuries during the event.....The disturbance is under investigation."
The incident first surfaced on social media and in an article by the Portland Mercury, which noted the concerns of Rowan Maher, a legal assistant with Metropolitan Public Defender, about the use of pepper foam spray by deputies.
"I'm alarmed that they're using respiratory irritants on people who may have been exposed to COVID-19," said Maher, according to the Mercury. "Pepper spray causes people to cough and sneeze, potentially exacerbating the outbreak."
The confrontation began when an inmate sought an COVID-19 test. The Oregonian reported that one of the inmates in the dorm had just tested positive for COVID-19, apparently prompting the request and a subsequent protest by inmates.
Mark Bunnell, president of the Multnomah County Corrections Association, said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the clash or any injuries, but he said his members have been expecting a fracas because a project to refurbish the technology and cameras at the county's other jail, the Multnomah County Justice Center in downtown Portland, has disrupted longstanding inmate classification practices. He said sheriff's staff have been mixing inmates in housing areas who normally would not be.
The "riot," he said, "is a direct result of a broken classification system due to the lack of beds at the Justice Center.
"Tensions have been high," Bunnell said, adding that the loss of beds "Is causing problems. We've been begging them and telling them this for months, to no avail."
Liedle, however, said the union's warnings have not taken the form of a formal request. He denied a connection between the sheriff's decision and the fracas.
Protesters organized a rally on Friday, Feb. 5, calling on Reese to correct unsafe conditions there, including the provision of better KN95 masks.
"Prisoners are simply asking for KN95 masks, medical care, sweaters, and blankets for those who are ill, and more time outside and at showers to help reduce the spread," Rowan Maher, one of the organizers, said in an announcement.
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