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Police absent during political violence in downtown Portland

A familiar sight returned to downtown Portland this past weekend: armed far-right groups engaged in violent clashes with counterprotesters.

The violence happened during two separate religious events, and brought out a number of familiar faces at protests, including a Southwest Washington man who has been federally charged for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection and a man previously convicted of assault at demonstrations.

While the two groups exchanged volleys of mace, paintballs and fireworks throughout downtown Sunday night, Portland police took no steps to intervene.

Controversial Christian singer and anti-COVID restriction activist Sean Feucht returned to Portland on Sunday to hold a religious concert. The concert was on the one-year anniversary of Fuecht’s first Portland event, which was designed to openly defy health guidelines enacted at the start of the pandemic.

Fuecht did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Following Fuecht’s concert, people who were contracted as security, including notorious Proud Boy and street brawler Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, began charging at counterprotesters in the area. That set off extended clashes, including one incident where a man pointed what appeared to be a rifle at journalists and other people who were following him.

That person walked to the police bureau’s central precinct downtown, where he turned himself in to waiting officers. Portland police later said in a statement that the rifle was a replica designed to play airsoft. Portland based gun crimes attorney Chris Trotter told OPB that even if it wasn’t a real firearm, the person using it could still face prosecution.

“It just depends how creative the prosecutor wants to be and how much they care about it,” Trotter said.

He recounted one case where a person was charged with menacing after pointing a black broomstick at bystanders. Airsoft and replica firearms can be almost indistinguishable from real firearms. In April, a Portland police officer shot and killed a man after mistaking the fake handgun he was holding for a real gun.

Portland police did not arrest the person who carried the rifle, or anyone else Sunday. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, did not respond to questions asking why the city took no action during the street clashes.

Toese’s last notable appearance at a protest in Portland was an Aug. 22, 2020 political melee downtown in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center. He was arrested soon after for parole violations.

“Mr. Toese continues to violate the probation conditions imposed on him,” an Aug. 24 probation report reads. “A warrant was issued 8/11/20 as a result of his violating the terms of his house arrest and failing to report to my office as directed.”

A probation report filed the following month lists numerous violations, including a trip to Portland during last summer’s racial justice protests when video showed him downtown encouraging his viewers to use violence. He also used an expandable baton during a fight with someone.

In October, Toese’s probation was revoked and he was sentenced to six months in jail. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office confirmed Monday that Toese is not currently on probation.

Skirmishes also took place Saturday on a smaller scale, after Canadian firebrand and homophobic preacher Artur Pawlowski held an event at Waterfront Park.

Pawlowski is known for stating that 2013 flooding in Alberta, Canada was caused by god “weeping over the perversion of homosexuality.” He is also an outspoken critic of COVID-19 restrictions. In April, he was recorded calling police officers Nazis and gestapo as they enforced restrictions during Easter celebrations in Alberta.

His event drew about 50 attendees, along with a group of people armed with bats and paintball guns acting as volunteer security. Many in the group wore black and yellow, colors associated with the Proud Boys, the far-right group that routinely instigates violence at protests across the country and whose members participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Among that group of men who attended this weekend’s events was Jeff Grace, 62, of Battle Ground, Washington, who is currently facing misdemeanor charges after photos showed him inside the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection.

In a March interview with KGW, Grace said he left the capitol building after seeing people causing damage to the building.

“It’s disgusting. It’s not OK. It’s not America. It’s not freedom. It’s a bad representation of what we really are and what we stand for,” he said.

According to an affidavit filed in federal court, Grace told an FBI Special Agent that he “is not a member of any group that advocated violence.”

Grace is on video Saturday, holding what looks like a baton while he stands with a group of people shooting paintball guns at counterprotesters.

Reached by OPB, Grace declined to speak on the record, but confirmed he attended both weekend events to provide security. On Sunday, he posted on social media, saying he was there to protect Pawlowski’s speech.

“That’s the same thing I did at the Capitol — I did nothing wrong. I proudly, peacefully protested what everyone knows was a lie,” Grace said. “God bless you guys, God bless America and God bless that pastor, because standing strong is what we need to do.”

The Saturday event was briefly disrupted when counterprotesters showed up, threw smoke grenades and attempted to dismantle the sound system Pawlowski was using for his event.

Later, the two sides clashed downtown, exchanging mace attacks and paintball rounds.

A video shows two Portland police officers in a car watching the exchange but doing nothing to stop it.

Police also did not intervene during violence Sunday night.

“At the time of those incidents, officers within Central Precinct were on a homicide crime scene near Southeast 26th Avenue and Southeast Hawthorne Street which began at about 5:30 p.m. A little later, at around 8:53 p.m., officers responded to a robbery near Northwest 1st Avenue and Northwest Davis Street,” Portland Police Bureau spokesperson Lt. Greg Pashley said in a statement about Sunday’s violence.

Pashley noted that a “significant number of officers” were attending those calls for hours.

Neither of the event organizers applied for the necessary permits, according to Portland Parks & Recreation spokesperson Mark Ross. He said events with more than 50 people, or those that require amplified sound or a structure like a tent or stage, require permits. Ross said enforcement of that requirement does not fall on the parks bureau, however.

“We suggest you ask police about enforcement questions for people in public spaces,” Ross said. “Portland Parks & Recreation does not remove people from public spaces.”

Pashley said that the bureau may have the authority to enforce non-permitted events, he is not aware of it ever having done so. Nonetheless, Pashley said the bureau didn’t have the resources to respond on Sunday, and that as they were gathering resources to respond on Saturday, the groups left the park and didn’t return.

The parks bureau denied a permit request from the Proud Boys last September for a planned event at Delta Park. The permit request said organizers expected 20,000 people but the maximum crowd size allowed during the pandemic was 50. An estimated 200 ultimately turned out. And in 2017, Mayor Wheeler asked the federal government to revoke a permit issued to Patriot Prayer for an event at Terry Schrunk Plaza. That request catalyzed national militia groups and white supremacist organizations to come to Portland for the rally.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting