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Oregon House Speaker calls Portland police response to protesters ‘completely unacceptable’

Portland police declared the protest a riot and said demonstrators threw water bottles, rocks and cans at officers.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek called police tactics ‘completely unacceptable’ in a letter to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. Kotek (D-Portland) represents the district in North Portland where officers used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters Tuesday night.

Kotek said police actions did not seem warranted.

Credit: Twitter

Portland police said demonstrators threw water bottles, rocks and cans at officers standing outside the Portland Police Association union office in North Portland. Officers later declared a riot.

“Crowd members targeted police, threw projectiles, lit fires and threw projectiles at officers,” said Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell in a video statement posted on Twitter.

“Some have said we’re only protecting an empty building and force used was excessive. My response to that is we would have seen one building lit on fire in a neighborhood where a commercial building fire could have led to residences being burned with families inside,” he said.

Police arrested 29 demonstrators. Six officers were hurt, according to police.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler talked around the issue during a city council vote on a new Portland police contract.

“I’ve had conversations just this morning with people to ensure that we double down on that to make sure we are completely transparent and accountable in our use of force tactics and why things are done,” said Wheeler.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty sent a letter to Lovell calling for several changes, including discontinuing the use of tear gas.

"What I've seen of police conduct nightly since protests began a month ago has been increasingly alarming," she wrote.

Officers used CS, commonly known as tear gas, on Tuesday night, despite a federal court order that temporarily bans Portland police from using the riot control agent, unless officers believe someone’s life or safety is in danger.

RELATED: Activists: Police reform bills passed in Oregon's special session are just the start

Portland lawyer Jesse Merrithew, representing the nonprofit Don’t Shoot Portland filed a motion Tuesday urging the judge to sanction the city for not following the court’s instruction.

“We got an order and the behavior is continuing,” said Merrithew.

“CS gas is uncomfortable but effective in dispersing crowds. We would rather not use it. We would rather have those in the area follow the law and no engage in dangerous behavior,” explained Lovell.

RELATED: 29 arrested after Portland police declare demonstration outside union headquarters a riot