Portland Police Violated Use of Force Policy During 2020 Protests, DOJ Says

A new report from U.S. Department of Justice lawyers says some Portland police officers violated their department's use of force policy while responding to protests that occurred within the city last year.

The report, which local media outlets covered shortly after its Wednesday release, is one in a series of reviews completed by the Department of Justice following a 2014 settlement agreement. The agreement was triggered by incidents in which officers were found to have used excessive force against individuals struggling with mental illness, according to The Oregonian.

Jim Middaugh, the communications director for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, told Newsweek the city entered that settlement agreement voluntarily and has sought other reviews in recent years in efforts to address issues within its police and public safety departments.

Wednesday's report covered the time period between January 10, 2020 and January 10, 2021. It said that the city of Portland "has not maintained substantial compliance with each provision" in four of the seven policy areas covered within the review.

Portland police use of force
A new report by DOJ lawyers said Portland police officers used force more than 6,000 times between late May and mid-November last year. In the photo above, Portland police officers walk through clouds of smoke while dispersing a crowd from in front of the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office on August 22, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Nathan Howard/Getty

The report points to the series of protests that took place in Portland last year, many of which occurred between May 29 and November 15. In that time period, the report said officers used force "more than 6,000 times."

"Some of this force deviated from force policy, and supervisors frequently validated individual uses of force with little or no discussion of reasonableness of the force used," the report said.

The city was found to be in better compliance with the bureau's use of force policy during events unrelated to the protest, which the report referred to as "crowd-control events."

The report pointed to training, accountability and community engagement as the three other focus points where the city did not meet the DOJ's expectations but said Portland did meet its requirements for community-based mental health services, crisis intervention and its employee information system.

Protests began in Portland in late May as city residents and Americans throughout the country reacted to the news of the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in Minneapolis police custody. Portland became a hotbed for protests throughout the summer, frequently garnering national attention for the violence and property destruction that occurred during the demonstrations.

Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams recently estimated it would cost $2.3 million to fund the cleaning and repair of city buildings damaged during the protests, and the cost of damages to local businesses was also estimated to be in the millions.

The Wednesday report said the Portland Police Bureau identified a "criminal element" during some of the protests, which the report said "was consistent with our consultant's limited observations." The report went on to say there were other instances in which "validation of individual uses of force with little or no discussion of reasonableness of the force used or of de-escalation attempts, stands in contrast to PPB's policy requirements for force investigations and PPB's expressed organizational goals."

"PPB members used force, some beyond policy. Supervisors approved that force, some without required critical assessment. PPB, as a whole, did not timely assess the crowd control events," the report said.

Middaugh told Newsweek the city is open to feedback like that contained within the Wednesday report and said there were other signs that the city is taking steps to move forward, with an amendment to the city's charter to create a new police accountability system and ongoing contract negotiations with the local police union serving as two examples.

"We are striving hard to get into compliance and remain in compliance," Middaugh said. "It's clear to everybody in Portland that the scope and nature of the protests that occurred throughout the summer were incredibly challenging for the city of Portland. It's clear we need to develop more resources for the training and reporting obligations."

In a statement shared with Newsweek, Portland Police Bureau Chief Chuck Lovell said the bureau was "looking forward" to reviewing the DOJ's report.

The events of last year "provided a series of unprecedented challenges for the Portland community and the PPB," Lovell said. "If we are found out of compliance, we will use the valuable feedback to continue to improve and grow as an agency."

Update (2/11/2021 at 7:49 p.m. ET): This article has been updated to include a response from Portland Police Bureau Chief Chuck Lovell.