Clark County’s two largest law enforcement agencies say they will not send officers to Portland to assist with ongoing, nightly protests due to liability concerns and an apparent lack of legal consequence for some of the people being arrested.
Officials with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Vancouver Police Department said their agencies have not provided officers for the protests since earlier this summer, in mid-June.
In the weeks following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, both Clark County agencies provided assistance for protests in Oregon’s largest city at the request of the Portland Police Bureau.
At that time, newly appointed Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell described the protests as “an awesome statement of unity for transformational change.” However, he noted that others were not engaged in lawful or constitutionally protected activities, such as damaging and lighting fires around the Justice Center.
The police bureau called Clark County for help under mutual-aid agreements. The first time the sheriff’s office sent over deputies was the weekend of June 5; for Vancouver police, their first foray into the city was May 31. They provided assistance to Portland police for several nights over about two weeks.
Since then, Vancouver police and Clark County deputies have not returned to Portland, despite the protests continuing for more than 95 days. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also police commissioner, has come under fire for his failure to bring the violence under control and for police using tear gas multiple times against demonstrators.
Some also blame Wheeler for engaging in a war of words with President Donald Trump. Trump has put Portland in the crosshairs of a “law and order” reelection campaign — a move that’s escalated tensions in the city and drawn the attention of his supporters.
A caravan of Trump supporters, estimated at about 600 cars, encountered Black Lives Matter protesters Saturday as they drove through downtown Portland, and skirmishes broke out. Aaron “Jay” Danielson, 39, a supporter of Vancouver-based Patriot Prayer and who was reportedly there protecting the caravan, was fatally shot.
On Sunday, less than 24 hours after the slaying, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced she would authorize more police agencies to staff protests, and called for more arrests for destructive or violent crimes. However, the next day, sheriffs in two Oregon counties said they would not send deputies.
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said flooding the city with more law enforcement would never work because Portland’s newly elected district attorney has dismissed charges against hundreds of protesters arrested for nonviolent, low-level crimes. Roberts and Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett also said the liability for their deputies would be too great.
‘No longer makes sense’
Clark County’s law enforcement agencies said they have similar concerns.
“Much like other regional law enforcement partners have expressed, the danger to our personnel, the associated liability combined with the apparent lack of legal consequence for people being arrested on a nightly basis make it impractical for us to send any of our personnel to Portland at this time to assist with protests or crowd management,” Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.
Staffing the police department and the safety of local residents is the top priority, Kapp said. Any requests for assistance from any regional partners will be evaluated based on staffing needs, she said, as well as the type of help being requested. Kapp added that the police department “has no current or future plans to send our personnel to Portland to assist with the nightly protesting that is occurring there.”
Clark County Undersheriff John Chapman said deputies would respond to Portland if requested for an emergency, such as a lethal force incident or mass shooting.
“The civil unrest, staffing issues and crowd management problems occurring downtown over the past 90 days would not qualify for this kind of response,” Chapman said. “Additionally, the city of Portland has chosen not to indemnify law enforcement agencies from (Washington).”
Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said his deputies and office would take on far too much liability if they continued to assist with the protests, and he worries about the lack of accountability being afforded to those being arrested.
“It no longer makes sense for me to put my people in jeopardy,” Atkins said.
Cost is also a concern for the sheriff. According to data previously provided by both agencies, the sheriff’s office and police department spent more than $150,000 sending their officers into Portland in June.