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Judge orders sanctions on Portland police over crowd control

PPB Officer Brent Taylor, right, holds an FN303 less-lethal launcher and a can of pepper spray while dispersing a crowd of protesters on Aug. 12, 2020, in downtown Portland, Ore..
PPB Officer Brent Taylor, right, holds an FN303 less-lethal launcher and a can of pepper spray while dispersing a crowd of protesters on Aug. 12, 2020, in downtown Portland, Ore..

A federal judge in Portland ordered sanctions against the Portland Police Bureau that will force the agency to train officers in how to use crowd control devices by the end of the year.

The ruling, which came late Tuesday, also requires the city to investigate allegations of misconduct surrounding officer Brent Taylor, who was a fixture of the Portland Police Bureau’s rapid response team during racial justice protests last year.

“These sanctions shall remain in effect until Defendant City of Portland demonstrates to the Court that it will comply with the Court’s Order,” U.S. District Court Chief Judge Marco Hernandez said in his seven page ruling.

“The parties have agreed to Defendant’s proposed sanctions, which include a training for Portland Police Bureau Rapid Response Team grenadiers and supervisors, removal of Officer Brent Taylor from crowd control events pending an internal investigation, circulation of the Court’s orders to all PPB officers, and a training for all PPB officers by the end of this year.”

In June, the local civil rights organization Don’t Shoot Portland, along with several named protesters, filed a lawsuit against the city for “indiscriminate use” of tear gas during nightly racial justice protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Later that month, Hernandez issued a temporary restraining order, which required police to follow their own rules for using tear gas, limiting the noxious chemicals to situations where “the lives or safety of the public or the police are at risk.”

A spokesman for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the city “accepts the thoughtful opinion” and is “taking immediate steps to comply with its decision.”

Teressa Raiford, a founder of Don’t Shoot PDX, said in a message she was pleased.

“I feel like this is a win for all of us!” she wrote. “No one should be harmed by law enforcement during Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the fact that we had to witness the violence on January 6th to gain perspective is still very triggering for me.”

A pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 in a failed insurrection attempt.

The city has struggled to limit indiscriminate use of crowd control weapons at protests over the past year. On Nov. 30, Hernandez found the city in contempt of his order, stating officers violated those rules during a June 30 protest outside the headquarters of the Portland Police Association, the union that represents rank-and-file officers. The judge identified three instances that evening, two involving Taylor. He deployed 15 rounds from his less-lethal rifle during two struggles over a banner carried by protesters.

On Tuesday, Hernandez ordered PPB’s Internal Affairs Division or the city auditor to “investigate the allegations of misconduct by Officer Brent Taylor from June 30, 2020.” Until that investigation is complete, Hernandez said Taylor cannot be allowed to work at protest events.

Hernandez also limited the use of crowd control devices until officers had received more training and met certain conditions, including all of PPB’s Rapid Response Team supervisors and grenadiers who fire less-lethal munitions.

“No RRT grenadier shall use an FN303 or 40MM less-lethal launcher in connection with crowd control unless and until” the city can certify to the judge the operators understand the courts temporary restraining order “and findings of contempt in this case, including the ability to recognize and articulate a threat without speculating and before utilizing less-lethal force.”

The rapid response team members also have to promptly report when they discharge their weapons and understand how many days officers can work civil unrest as a grenadier before they need to take a break.

Civil rights attorneys welcomed the ruling, noting it took many Portlanders stepping forward to hold the city accountable.

“We’re gratified that the Court has taken the City to task after months of unconstitutional conduct,” Juan Chavez, an attorney with the Oregon Justice Resource Center representing the plaintiffs in the case. “We hope that the City sees this as an opportunity to move towards the kind of transformational change that Portlanders have been demanding for years ... It took the voices of thousands in the streets to bring about a temporary end to this kind of wanton police violence. Black lives matter.”

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting