PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Portland Police Chief Mike Marshman was oblivious to a controversial practice of his agency when interviewed on OPB’s Think Out Loud program on Tuesday afternoon, June 6.
But he’s hearing about it now.
The bureau’s spokesperson says Marshman wasn’t briefed on a particularly contentious part of the bureau’s response Sunday, when at the near end of the day’s protests and rallies, members of Portland Police took photographs of hundreds of protesters’ — and some journalists’ — IDs and information after barricading them in a “kettle,” a police tactic to control crowds. The kettling occurred at Southwest Fourth and Morrison Street, where people were detained pending investigation into disorderly conduct.
Marshman told the show’s interviewer, Dave Miller, and those listening, that it wasn’t the bureau’s policy and that it might have been another agency that took the photos.
“That’s not our practice, we don’t do that. I don’t know if any of our partner agencies did that, maybe our federal partners, being in a federal park, maybe, but I’d have to look into that,” Marshman said in the interview.
But first-hand accounts at the scene were confirmed by the bureau’s spokesperson on Monday.
Then, on Tuesday, Sgt. Pete Simpson, spokesperson for the Portland Police Bureau, said he sent a note to Miller to “correct the record” and “feverishly wrote a note for (Marshman) but it was too late to get on air.” Meanwhile, listeners, including some journalists, on social media picked up the flub, calling for Marshman to respond.
“What??? I was in that kettle and they asked for my photo ID and took a pic of me holding my ID up” wrote Twitter user Patrick Garrison, in response to Portland Mercury news editor Dirk VanderHart’s tweets about the episode.
Miller and Marshman were unable to correct the record on air for listeners, but Think Out Loud posted the “correction” on their Twitter page as well as on Facebook.
Simpson said in an email that “Officers can take pictures as part of an ongoing investigation. The chief was not aware of this particular part of the event.”
That the strategy was used at all concerns Dan Handelman, member of Portland Copwatch, a group that monitors the bureau.
“Because although the police are claiming that everybody involved was engaged in some kind of criminal activity, having a broad detention of hundreds of people, turning (it into) a criminal aspect and taking their IDs is very troubling,” he said.
“It seems to be aimed at chilling free speech and freedom of association and freedom to assemble.”
Police lined both ends of the street, closing in on protesters who started marching down Southwest Fourth Street.
In essence, a crowd of an estimated 200 people were cordoned off and detained until they provided ID to get out, a process that took roughly an hour.
While some of the protesters in the unpermitted march had been throwing bottles and other objects, others detained appeared peaceful. Among the journalists caught in the kettle were this reporter and Pamplin Media Group photographer Josh Kulla.
All involved were told they were being detained pending investigation into disorderly conduct. To leave the scene, they had to show their identification to Portland Police to be photographed. Police sought to compare the IDs to video that some officers took throughout the day. Photos of IDs were taken of everyone, even if journalists had press credentials.
Simpson told the Tribune in a Monday phone interview that this strategy had been used “once or twice before” and that “it’s not a tactic or strategy that we always are able to use or is appropriate.”
He said that after the May Day protests on May 1 — which turned into a riot, including damages to downtown businesses and other property — the Police Bureau wanted to get ahead of the “anarchist crowd kind of hit-and-run” strategy.
“We could never get ahead of them and sort of stop that,” he said.
Handelman said people in their group observed police at May Day taking photos of people’s IDs who threw Pepsi cans at officers. However, they weren’t sure if it was Portland Police doing it.
Photographs taken Sunday clearly show Portland Police as the agency taking photographs of IDs.
Simpson said that taking the photos of IDs were “just a documentation” so they could look for specific people that may have committed crimes earlier in the day on Sunday.
“All those photos or documentation will be given to detectives and then as we look at any images that show the people throwing bricks or bringing weapons to the parks, they’ll take a look and see if any of the people doing the crime were part of the group there at Fourth and Morrison,” he said.
Simpson said some protesters were dropping items at the scene in order to avoid identification.
Handelman remains concerned because “part of what guides police action is governmental interest.
“So having 300 people or less detained for an hour because they walked a few blocks in the street in a protest that didn’t get a permit, which isn’t necessarily required by the first amendment, it seems like there was no legitimate governmental interest in that,” he says. “It seems like they’re trying to gather information on people.”
He said detaining such a large group of people, including press, violates community members’ rights of free speech and freedom of press.
“Not just the press,” Handelman said. “The constitution doesn’t say you have to be credentialed to be a person of the media.”
Simpson said the photos won’t be used beyond the investigation, adding the strategy was intended to curb violence.
Sunday’s protests, while there were 14 arrests, flash bang grenades deployed, pepper spray used and other projectiles thrown, were relatively nonviolent compared to May Day, when property was damaged, including a police vehicle, and fires started in the street.
Update: The American Civil Liberties Union made a statement on Tuesday about the protests, condemning police response, including about the identification documentation.
“Disorderly conduct is a minor offense and hardly something the police should prioritize at the expense of the constitutional rights of those who were detained,” the statement reads. The ACLU had two legal observers in the kettle.
They say that police taking photos of each person detained is a likely violation of state law, which prohibits law enforcement from collecting certain personal information unless it directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities — and that there’s reasonable grounds to suspect the person is involved in criminal conduct.
The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner