Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and the union representing Portland police officers are trading jabs over the mass decision by the members of the Rapid Response Team to quit the unit.
All 50 or so member of the voluntary team that responds to protests voted to resign from it on Wednesday, June 16, the day after one its members was indicted by a Multnomah County grand jury for assaulting a photographer last year during a declared riot. They are still serving their assigned positions with the Portland Police Bureau.
On Thursday, Hardesty issued a statement calling on the council to formally disband the team, saying the resignations are "yet another example of a rogue paramilitary organization that is unaccountable to the elected officials and residents of Portland."
In her statement, Hardesty said, "The good old boy network is crumbling and we can either be a part of the change or part of the status quo — but the arc of justice is bending quickly and it's imperative that the Portland City Council lands on the right side of history."
On Friday, Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner hit back, accusing Hardesty of using the occasion "to promote a self-serving, anti-police, anti-public safety agenda."
In a June 18 statement praising the work of the team, Turner said, "Instead of defending our communities and the business owners whose livelihoods were destroyed by the riots, she continues to endorse violence."
"Our Rapid Response Team members did not volunteer to have Molotov cocktails, fireworks, explosives, rocks, bottles, urine, feces, and other dangerous objects thrown at them. Nor did they volunteer to have threats of rape, murder and assault on their families hurled at them. They did not volunteer to suffer serious injuries, to be subject to warrantless criticism and false allegations by elected officials, or to suffer through baseless complaints and lengthy investigations devoid of due process," Turner said.
Turner previously called the prosecution of Officer Corey Budworth by Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt politically motivated. He also accused other unnamed local elected officials of playing politics by siding with the protesters over the police during protests that frequently turned violent.
"When elected officials turned nightly violence into political banter for their own personal agendas, those politicized actions put Rapid Response Team members and public safety at risk. The reality is our dedicated RRT members have had enough and were left with no other alternative but to resign from their voluntary positions," Turner said.
The clash between the police union and local elected officials is nothing new. Turner's defense of the former team members echoes previous times that the police union has supported officers facing discipline from high-profile incidents of alleged excessive force. They include the 1985 death of Lloyd Stevenson, who died after being placed in a choke hold; the 2003 shooting of Kendra James by an officer as she tried to flee a traffic stop; the 2009 shooting of a 12-year-old girl by an officer with a beanbag round; and the 2010 police shooting of Aaron Campbell during a standoff outside a Northeast Portland motel.
In those four cases, the officers faced discipline that the union presidents denounced as unreasonable, arguing they were doing jobs that elected officials and many members of the public do not understand. Those cases became public controversies, in large part because they all involved unarmed Black Portlanders, leading to organized protests by the Black United Front, the Albina Ministerial Alliance and other civil rights organizations. The police union pushed back, arguing the officers' use of forced was justified and within bureau policies.
In the Stevenson case, the union increased community tension by selling T-shirts with the slogan "Don't choke them, smoke them" to raise money for the officers' defense. Within police circles, the slogan meant if officers cannot use choke holds to subdue struggling suspects, they will have little choice but to shoot them. Protesters took it to advocate shooting suspects.
In the beanbag shooting case, hundreds of police marched on City Hall on Nov. 25, 2009, to support the officer, Chris Humphreys and demand to know whether the council will back them in such situations. "Will you stand with us?" they chanted in unison.
The Campbell shooting prompted then-Mayor Sam Adams to request a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation of the bureau. It found Portland police have a history of using excessive force against the mentally ill. The city settled in 2014 by agreeing to widespread changes to Portland police force and Taser policies, training, supervision and oversight, a restructuring of police crisis intervention services, and quicker investigations into alleged police misconduct.
In April 2021 the Justice Department filed a formal notice of noncompliance with the agreement, citing inappropriate police use and management of force during protests last year, among other things. The city responded by blaming the federal government for fueling the protests by sending federal officers to Portland to guard the downtown U.S Courthouse. The conflict was still unresolved when the team disbanded itself.
Turner's statement can be found here.
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