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Police Disperse Protesters After Fire Set Inside Federal Courthouse In Portland

<p>Portland police said protesters set off fireworks at the downtown federal courthouse overnight Thursday, July 2, into Friday, July 3. The courthouse has been covered in graffiti for weeks, amid nightly protests against police brutality and racial injustice.</p>

Portland Police Bureau

Portland police said protesters set off fireworks at the downtown federal courthouse overnight Thursday, July 2, into Friday, July 3. The courthouse has been covered in graffiti for weeks, amid nightly protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

UPDATE (Saturday, 12:43 p.m. PT) – Police broke up a group of several hundred protesters in downtown Portland overnight Thursday and into Friday morning. Crowd control munitions were used after protesters shot fireworks towards police, broke windows and set what appeared to be a small fire inside the federal courthouse, police said.

On Friday afternoon, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called for an end to the protests that have turned violent.

"Lives are at stake," Wheeler said. "I am calling for a full and thorough review of all use of force tactics and meaningful public transparency."

Video posted on social media shows police outside the federal courthouse using what appears to be smoke or gas to disperse crowds.

"No CS gas was used by Portland Police Bureau officers during this event," the bureau said in a release early Friday. "An open pocket knife was thrown at an officer, coming within inches from striking them. Demonstrators continued to throw large rocks and full cans, as well as shot off commercial grade fireworks towards officers."

The city of Portland is under a court order that prohibits officers from using tear gas and other less lethal munitions, unless there is risk to the safety and lives of officers or the public. The order also applies to outside agencies working under PPB's incident command. The order would not apply to federal law enforcement agencies if they act on their own to protect their own interests.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown released a statement Friday in response police clashing with protesters earlier in the week. A spokesman for her office said Oregon State Police assisted PPB during demonstrations on June 30 in North Portland. OSP troopers used tear gas at PPB's direction during demonstrations, the spokesman said.

“I am disturbed by what appears to be a pattern of escalation between the Portland Police Bureau and this group of protesters, and by the Police Bureau’s use of crowd control munitions," Brown said. "Use of force, regardless of its legal justification, will do nothing to solve the underlying concerns of racial justice and police accountability raised by the protests.

"I strongly urge the City of Portland to be proactive in using strategies focused on de-escalation and dialogue in order to prevent and avoid this senseless cycle of violence," Brown said.

Hours later, Wheeler issued his statement. While it expressed concern it lacked specifics about how the "full the thorough review" of force tactics by police would occur. He asked for an end to violence and a focus on the work of police reform.

"I am keenly aware of concerns about police actions related to demonstration activity," Wheeler stated. "Under what circumstances, if any, should tear gas be used? When, specifically, can a gathering be declared unlawful? Who should make those calls? These are all legitimate questions."

Portland police referred questions about the use of gas to federal law enforcement.

"The U.S. Marshals are responsible for the protection of the federal judiciary, and we take that responsibility very seriously. While we do not discuss our specific security measures, we continuously review the security measures in place and take appropriate steps to provide additional protection when it is warranted," said an official with the U.S. Marshals.

Late Thursday, protesters "broke into" the north side doors of the Multnomah County Justice Center, police said. They also broke glass doors at the federal courthouse, just across the street. Federal officers came out of the building. Police say protesters threw rocks and other objects at those officers.

Around 12:46 a.m. protesters gathered on the west side of the federal courthouse. 

"At this time, demonstrators started launching mortars towards the federal courthouse and a fire erupted inside of the building where the glass doors had been broken," Portland police said in their release.

Police said they used less-lethal munitions to disperse the crowd. They said they were protesting the lives and safety of officers. Several protesters were arrested, though the exact number has not yet been released.

Officials say 9 people have been criminally charged, one person is facing federal charges.

“The lawless and violent acts of extremists across the political spectrum cannot continue," U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said. "Violence directed at federal, state, and local law enforcement and property destruction is inconsistent with the aims of social justice."

Additionally, Gov. Brown directed the Oregon State Police to examine its relationship with PPB.

“I have instructed OSP Superintendent [Travis] Hampton to reevaluate the criteria OSP uses when responding to requests for support from Portland Police Bureau, including whether life safety is at risk and if support from other surrounding jurisdictions is available," the governor said.

“We can do better, we must do better, to heal the divisions in our community," she said. "We have a duty to keep the peace, not escalate confrontation."

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting