Oregon State Police on Thursday pulled out its approximately 100 troopers from their role assisting both federal officers and Portland police in responding to nightly protests in the city.

The state police committed to two weeks, “and that two weeks ended today,” said Capt. Timothy R. Fox, a state police spokesman.

“We’re in a county that’s not going to prosecute this criminal behavior,” Fox added.

The troopers will be returned to their regular assignments elsewhere in the Willamette Valley, along the coast, and in southern and Eastern Oregon, where police staffing already is limited, the captain said.

“The Oregon State Police is continually reassessing our resources and the needs of our partner agencies and at this time we are inclined to move those resources back to counties where prosecution of criminal conduct is still a priority,” Fox said.

The state police were sent in to assist federal and local police in Portland on July 30, a result of an agreement Oregon Gov. Kate Brown reached with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in an effort to curtail the nightly clashes between federal law enforcement, who fired tear gas and impact munitions at protesters after some in the crowd lobbed commercial fireworks, glass bottles, paint-filled balloons and other objects at officers over the fortified fence outside the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse.

It’s unclear what the departure of the state police will mean at the downtown federal courthouse in Portland as the city enters its 78th night of consecutive demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

U.S. Department of Justice Attorney Jordan Von Bokern, representing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, wrote in a legal brief filed in court on Wednesday that when Homeland Security leadership “determines that the security of federal facilities in Portland is no longer at risk,” then the Federal Protective Service “will begin to release the DHS component law enforcement personnel who are currently assigned to protecting those facilities.”

Under the agreement reached with Brown, Oregon State Police at 4 p.m. on July 30 took over primary law enforcement responsibility for the city property around and within the temporary federal fence line surrounding the federal courthouse. The state police also communicated to Federal Protective Service that the state police would respond to any instances of criminal activity directed at the federal courthouse or at the nearby Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building.

Once the state police took over control of the front portico of the federal courthouse and mostly stayed out of sight, also leaving federal law enforcement inside the courthouse, the crowds turned attention to police precincts in Northeast and Southeast Portland and the Portland police union headquarters in North Portland.

State police assisted Portland police in dispersing crowds in those locations after fires were set at the police union office, some attempted to barricade closed a front door to East Precinct or objects were thrown at police, according to Fox.

Oregon State Police Supt. Travis Hampton was in Portland every night of the two week-period that state troopers were assigned to Portland.

He was the commander in charge of the state troopers on the ground and believed his presence there was important “if he’s going to put his troopers in harms way,” Fox said.

The state police were not visible at the federal courthouse, but assisted Portland police when they declared unlawful assemblies or riots.

Protesters returned to the streets outside the federal courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center Wednesday night. After about 90 minutes of speeches on the steps of the Justice Center by Black community representatives, a crowd assembled outside the federal courthouse. A short time later, several people began lobbing fireworks and bottles over the courthouse fence, and Portland police advanced on demonstrators and used tear gas to move the crowds away late in the evening after declaring unlawful assemblies and a riot.

A state trooper late Wednesday took a rock to the helmet and suffered a concussion, Fox said.

Von Bokern, the Justice Department lawyer, wrote in court papers on Wednesday that, federal officers’ engagement with protesters had “diminished to practically nothing” in the past two weeks.

Whether that will continue or change as protests are anticipated to continue and the state police buffer is gone will be closely watched.

State police also had served as the liaison between Portland police and the Federal Protective Service, responsible for safeguarding the federal courthouse, since Portland’s City Council prohibited local police from communicating with federal law enforcement about protest response.

— Maxine Bernstein


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