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Civil rights groups call for federal investigation into Portland Police Bureau's use of 'kettling'

Friday night, officers corralled close to 100 people within a single city block, recorded their names and photographed their faces.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Days after Portland’s protests flared up again, civil rights advocates are calling for a federal investigation into the Portland Police Bureau’s use of a crowd control tactic known as "kettling."

It happened Friday night in the city’s Pearl District, at Northwest 13th Avenue and Northwest Marshall Street. The bureau said later in a news release officers indeed corralled close to 100 people within a single city block, recorded their names and photographed their faces.

“The group was advised that they were being detained for investigation of crimes, they were not free to leave, and they should comply with officers' lawful orders,” said the release. The bureau later released photos of smashed windows, indicating the crime officers were investigating was destruction of property.

One by one, people were either escorted out of the perimeter, police said, or charged.

That included journalists. Two freelance journalists told KGW they were ordered to leave the kettle perimeter. Suzette Smith, who often reports for the Portland Mercury, took a photo of an officer photographing her. He told her to lower her COVID mask before doing so, she said.

RELATED: Portland protests night 2: Police detain crowd in Pearl District

“[Officers] demanded my full name and my birth date, which they wrote on a piece of duct tape and then gave it to me to put on my chest,” Smith said in an interview Saturday. “I was advised that if I returned to a protest, they would arrest me.”

In another video posted on Twitter, officers can be heard telling freelance journalist Maranie R. Staab, “It’s time to leave”. When she identified herself as press, an officer can be heard saying, “We already asked the press to leave.”

“They walked directly at me and put their hands on me and pulled me, you know, the 15, 20 feet to their police line and through their police line,” Staab said in a phone interview Saturday.

Police declined to comment on Staab’s video but said they are reviewing the bureau's response as a whole, adding PPB “respects the rights of members of the press.”

"Legal observers, press and medically fragile individuals were all offered a chance to leave if they wished as they were not being detained," said Sgt. Kevin Allen in an email Saturday. "Those that stayed were escorted out one by one like the rest of the group."

Early Saturday morning, the bureau released photos of tactical gear and weapons, including guns and knives, which police say people left behind in the perimeter. Thirteen people were arrested, with charges ranging from possession of a loaded firearm in public to attempted assault of a public safety officer to felony criminal mischief, for breaking a window.

The charges and photos weren’t nearly enough to satisfy longtime critics of the bureau.

RELATED: Crowd becomes destructive outside federal courthouse in downtown Portland; officers deploy tear gas

Calling it “an aggressive and indiscriminate police tactic,” the American Civil Liberties Union and the Oregon Justice Resource Center issued a press release Saturday afternoon, calling on newly confirmed U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate PPB’s use of “kettling” Friday.

“That PPB officers also continue to violate Oregon law and invade the constitutional right to privacy — by collecting photographs and identification of those protesting the police — underscores that PPB aims to intimidate and chill the rights of our community members and local and independent press,” read the release.

Back in 2017, both the OJRC and the ACLU took the city to federal court over the tactic. In January, the Oregonian/OregonLive reported judges had either dismissed or recommended throwing out both cases.

“While the courts determined qualified immunity shielded officers from accountability for their actions in 2017, the court did not greenlight the tactic for use,“ the release read.

Stopping short of condoning kettling, Portland mayor and police commissioner Ted Wheeler’s office released a brief statement Saturday.

“The Police Bureau engaged in extensive conversations, planning and training around a variety of tactics aimed at holding people who engage in crime, violence, intimidation and criminal destruction accountable. Tactical decisions are made by the incident commander,” said Jim Middaugh, the mayor’s director of communications.

The statement came less than 24 hours after the mayor, during his State of the City address, called for an end to the destruction, which has all too often accompanied protests.

“The ongoing criminal vandalism must stop,” Mayor Wheeler said Friday. “It holds small businesses hostage.”

Friday marked the second night in a row of protests in Portland, after months of quiet. Thursday night, a crowd of people set fire to plywood outside Portland’s federal courthouse and smashed windows of a locally-owned shoe store.

RELATED: Cleanup at federal courthouse after night of destructive demonstrations in downtown Portland

People on the ground told reporters they're protesting everything from to federal immigration policy to the construction of an oil pipeline between Canada and Wisconsin to police shootings.

Some say, specifically, they’re out demonstrating in light of the criminal trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd. That trial began earlier this month. Saturday also marked the first anniversary of the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman shot and killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky during a botched drug raid.

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