Portland’s Police Riot Team Resigns After Officer Indicted Over Alleged Assault On Photographer

All of the officers, sergeants and detectives with the Portland Police Bureau’s Rapid Response Team — the unit responsible for handling riots in the streets — resigned in unison last Wednesday.

Officials called it an unprecedented move.

The resignations were handed in after news that one of the team members, Officer Corey Budworth, may be criminally charged for excessive force used during a BLM protest in 2020, and that another member, Detective Erik Kammerer, is under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice for similar matters.

Sources working for the city confirmed the resignations to Thursday morning, before the official statement from the police. The officers will stay in employment, but will no longer be part of the Rapid Response Team. RRT tasks are on a voluntary basis within the bureau.

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt told the press his office was still investigating other use of force cases by police members related to riots, which means prosecutions against other RRT members might follow.

Image: Register Guard

In a media conference Thursday, Acting Chief Chris Davis said the 50-officer team would no longer be operating.

“This does not mean there will be no response in public order situations. We’ll use the resources we have,” he said.

The Chief said the police bureau is currently in talks with other law enforcement agencies, although some of them have been hesitant in the past to assist Portland’s efforts to police riots. However, Davis said through staffing adjustments and coordination with other law enforcement, he was sure the bureau could find a way to work things out.

“What you’re likely to see is similar response, just using a little different approach with on-duty resources as opposed to the specialized folks coming in and taking on that mission,” he said.

The RRP team, which was in constant action in the past 14 months, regularly working at protests, has cost the city both financially and in terms of officer morale. Budget officials say Portland police were paid nearly $7 million in overtime in just two months, June and July.

The Chief said team members have shared their concerns for the past year, including objections to Budworth’s prosecution.

“They brought up that among a lot of other things,” Davis said. “I think that, really, this is the culmination of a very long process and it’s not just an indictment that caused this to happen.”

The Portland Police Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, has thrown criticisms at Schmidt’s office over Budworth’s case, calling it a politically-driven move and saying that Budworth was “caught in the crossfire of agenda-driven city leaders and a politicized criminal justice system.”

Riot police run towards protesters in Portland, April 2021. Image: Reuters

Budworth is being prosecuted with assistance from the Portland Police Bureau following a grand jury process.

He is accused of hitting activist photographer Teri Jacobs from behind with a baton. Videos of the incident appear to show Budworth hitting Jacobs once in the head from behind, and then hitting her face after she falls to the ground.

The city of Portland settled a lawsuit for $50,000 with Jacobs in February.

His case was one of the accusations thrown at the Rapid Response Team last year. A number of lawsuits have been filed against the city, as well as criticism from DOJ prosecutors, according to whom the cops have strayed far from the required use of force.

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty criticized the officers for resigning during a moment of accountability in a Thursday statement.

”What today’s action says is that some Portland police officers believe they are above the law,” she wrote. “I support District Attorney Mike Schmidt in his efforts to hold police officers accountable when they commit crimes themselves because no one is above the law.”

The Commissioner has been an outspoken critic of the police for a while now and had called for the unit to be broken apart. She also said she wanted to see the team disbanded through council action — not in protest by its own members.

”I remain deeply concerned these RRT resignations are yet another example of a rogue paramilitary organization that is unaccountable to the elected officials and residents of Portland,” she said.

Schmidt said he had “confidence” the bureau would still manage public safety without the RRT.

“In the meantime, my office will continue to focus on the fair and just prosecution of criminal matters. We cannot expect the community to trust law enforcement if we hold ourselves to a lower standard,” he wrote Thursday.

Davis said the bureau will keep on working with Schmidt’s office to get past “friction points” that he said always come forth during times of hardship.

“I don’t expect that we will see what some other cities have seen where that relationship deteriorates and people aren’t talking to each other,” he said. “I don’t see that happening here.”

RRT members. Image: Doug Brown

City Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also Portland’s police commissioner, is facing a recall effort partly due to complaints fired at the police regarding the use of force in last year’s riots.

He said he was ordering the Portland Police Bureau to prepare “mobile field forces to respond to any public safety needs, including potential violence-related mass gatherings.”

The mayor said that Oregon Governor Kate Brown had also made officers from the state police available if required. He added that he acknowledged “the toll this past year has taken on (Rapid Response Team members) and their families.”

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