Portland police union rails against 'defund police' commissioner after riot squad resignations

Portland needs new leadership after police rapid response team resigns: military veteran

Military veteran John Jackson suggests Portland needs new leadership following violent protests and the resignation of the police’s rapid response team

The head of the police union in Portland shot back against new criticism from City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty – who has spearheaded the local defund police movement – over the recent resignation of all 50 members of the police riot squad, arguing her self-serving agenda endorses violence, “instead of defending our communities and the business owners whose livelihoods were destroyed by the riots.” 

Portland Police Association Executive Director Daryl Turner argued in a statement issued Friday that “roving gangs of black-clad rioters do not speak for the hundreds of thousands of residents and business owners of Portland who want a safe and clean city. Yet local politicians supported them.”

“These rioters, bent on destruction, hijacked social and racial justice movements,” he continued, before calling out Hardesty directly. “These rioters burned and looted our city. Yet local politicians supported them.” 

“Instead of recognizing the value of public safety, peace and order, Commissioner Hardesty has used the occasion to promote a self-serving, anti-police, anti-public safety agenda,” Turner said. “Instead of defending our communities and the business owners whose livelihoods were destroyed by the riots, she continues to endorse violence. Plain and simple: Portlanders want our city back.” 

Members of the Portland Police Bureau’s Rapid Response Team (RRT) resigned from their voluntary positions last week over the indictment of Officer Corey Budworth for allegedly assaulting a photographer with his police-issued baton when a riot was declared outside the Multnomah Building last August. Those some 50 officers keep their other assignments and remain employed by the police department.  

Hardesty has since called on Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Council to formally disband the riot squad, arguing “these RRT resignations are yet another example of a rogue paramilitary organization that is unaccountable to the elected officials and residents of Portland.” 

“Earlier this week, for the first time in Portland’s history, an officer from PPB’s Rapid Response Team was charged with a misdemeanor for assaulting a photojournalist during a protest last summer,” Hardesty said in a statement Thursday.  “Ironically, we now see some PPB officers engaging in the act they showed so much disdain for last summer by staging their own protest.”

In this Sept. 5, 2020, file photo, police use chemical irritants and crowd control munitions to disperse protesters during a demonstration in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

“A specific demand from the local racial justice movement was that we disband PPB’s Rapid Response Team. Based on RTT’s inability to appropriately de-escalate the situation on our streets last summer, I proposed disbanding RRT last fall, but the majority of council wasn’t ready to commit to a fundamental rethinking of our systems of community safety,” Hardesty said. “Now we have an opportunity to show what crowd control and de-escalation in policing looks like without RRT – but it’s important to note that Council and the mayor have the right and responsibility to decide what actions police take in the affirmative. We should formally disband the RRT, but through Council action.” 

Portland has withstood more than 150 days of often violent demonstrations since the death of George Floyd. Turner said that officers who volunteered to serve on the RRT received and applied “specialized training to manage crowd and protest events safely and effectively with as little force as practical.”

“But 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,” Turner said. “Nor did they volunteer to have threats of rape, murder and assault on their families hurled at them.” 

The head of the police union said RRT members also 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.” 

Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty speaks to protestors during a candlelight vigil to support Portlanders’ rights to free speech and assembly at the Multnomah County Justice Center. (Photo by Mason Trinca/Getty Images)

Until their resignations Wednesday, RRT members “continued to come to work every day, exhausted and injured,” Turner said. “The only glue holding the team together was their commitment, dedication and integrity to serve their communities. But that glue dissolved when political venom demonized these public servants for doing exactly what they were tasked to do – restore peace and order in our city.”

“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,” Turner concluded. “The reality is our dedicated RRT members have had enough and were left with no other alternative but to resign from their voluntary positions.” 

Issuing her statement days before recognition of the new federal holiday Juneteenth, Hardesty made the argument that “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.” She claimed that 82% of Portland voters approved a ballot measure to create a new system of independent oversight over the police department.

Hardesty voiced support for Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, whose office brought the charge against Budworth before his eventual indictment by a grand jury. He faces one misdemeanor count of fourth-degree assault on photographer and activist Teri Jacobs on Aug. 18, 2020.

The incident – which was captured on video that circulated on social media – happened as individuals in a crowd of some 200 demonstrators launched a Molotov cocktail into the Multnomah Building in southeast Portland, setting it ablaze. A riot was declared as Budworth was working crowd control. 

From May 29 through Nov. 15, 2020, during the height of demonstrations in Portland, the city’s police used force more than 6,000 times, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice. Budworth marked the first Rapid Response Team officer to face criminal prosecution stemming from force used during those events. The police union called the prosecution politically driven, and said Budworth’s baton “push” to the head was accidental.

Also last week, authorities said a Portland Police Bureau detective is under review by the Oregon Department of Justice for possible criminal charges related to use of force at last year’s racial justice protests.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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