Third-degree chemical burns. A traumatic head injury. Soft tissue damage.
The casualty reports came in hours after the volatile August 4, 2018 clash between protesting members of Vancouver, Washington’s alt-right group Patriot Prayer and counter-protesting locals who identify as anti-fascist (or, antifa). All of these injuries were said to have come from the loud explosives that Portland police officers shot into crowds of protesters that afternoon.
Now, nearly a year after the tense confrontation, police records obtained by the Mercury detail officers’ justification for firing these so-called “less lethal” munitions at demonstrators.
From vague “movements [that] appeared similar to attempts to break the windows [of patrol cars]” to more direct “lit pyrotechnics thrown toward officers,” the reasonings given offer some insight into when—and why—officers within the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) decide to shoot munitions into crowds of protesters.
The August 4 protest has drawn particular scrutiny from the public and elected officials in the months since it took place for a number of reasons, mostly surrounding the way the PBB conducted itself during the tense confrontation.
Two months after the protest, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) casually mentioned that the morning of August 4, officers had discovered a “cache” of weapons in a car belonging to members of Patriot Prayer and parked in a garage overlooking the planned location of the afternoon protest. In February 2019, a record request returned to the Mercury revealed friendly, protective text messages sent between a PPB officer and Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson during the August 4 meet-up.
But the most immediate questions regarding police conduct came just days after the summer protest, when several Portlanders reported serious injuries sustained from PPB officers’ use of crowd-control munitions.
One man who only identified himself in an Oregonian interview by his first name, Anthony, suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was hit in the head with a flash-bang grenade—a loud pyrotechnic police use to disperse crowds. The grenade lodged itself in his bike helmet and split open his skull. A nurse allegedly told Anthony the injury would have been lethal if he hadn’t been wearing the helmet.
Another flash-bang grenade hit a documentary filmmaker named Michelle Fawcett, who suffered third-degree chemical burns on her arm and chest, according to an interview with the Guardian.
At least one reporterKATU's Ric Peavyhouse, was injured by PPB projectiles that afternoon. Others reported less-severe injuries, like bruises or scrapes, from being pushed or dragged by police officers attempting to break up the crowds.
But in the 13 use-of-force reports filed by PPB officers who shot flash-bangs, rubber bullets, and pepper balls—non-lethal bullets filled with pepper spray—at protesters on August 4, officers claim none of their projectiles injured members of the public.
Officer Derek Harris, for instance, wrote that despite firing five flash-bangs into a crowd of counter-protesters, “No injuries were ever reported to me. I did not see any injuries after launching the [grenade].”
Another officer, Zachary Flippo, describes shooting flash-bangs into a crowd of counter-protesters that happened to be standing between a line of PPB officers and two abandoned police cars. Flippo writes that the crowd “started shaking” the cars. This was concerning, he said, because he was unsure if there were officers inside the parked cars and knew the vehicles contained weapons protesters could easily grab. Only after Flippo said he allegedly sees people “smashing the windows of police cars” did he fire two flash-bangs at the group. There is no evidence that police car windows were smashed that afternoon. PPB records do show that at least one patrol car had a flat tire after the event.
A video taken of this particular incident shows Flippo firing the munitions into a crowd easily made up of more than 50 protesters.
“I was not told of any injury to any one nor saw any injury,” Flippo wrote in his report.
Another officer, John Young, reported shooting nine flash-bangs into a crowd of antifa protesters, some of which appeared to be throwing bricks, bottles, and rocks. “No one was injured with the deployment of the ADDs,” Young decisively concludes in his report.
Other cops on the scene also say they saw protesters throw bricks, glass bottles, rocks, chunks of concrete, and Molotov cocktails at officers. PPB has not offered evidence to confirm these allegations. Most officers cite these projectiles—and the perceived damage of police cars—as justification for shooting munitions at the public.
Officer Andrew Kofoed said he saw a man standing 20 yards away throw a construction cone in Kofoed’s direction. After the man bent down and appeared to pick something up from the ground, Kofoed fired pepper balls at him.
In his report, Kofoed explained: “I felt it was necessary to use the [weapon] as the subjects had armed themselves or were preparing to arm themselves with rocks.”
Not all of the damage is verifiable. Officer Zachary Domka, who also observed protesters surrounding the empty policy cars, wrote that, “The movements of those individuals appeared similar to attempts to break the windows, slash the tires, spray-paint the side of the vehicle, etc.”
Domka does not confirm if vandalism was actually taking place. Yet, this was enough evidence to prompt Domka to shoot rubber bullets at the legs of protesters holding a banner and standing between Domka and the police vehicles.
“None of the targeted individuals appeared injured nor did any of them claim injury to me or others squad members,” Domka writes.
Many officers cite protesters' "anti-law enforcement" attitudes in explaining why they chose to shoot into the crowd.
"This group was anti-police from the start of the protest. I could hear some of them yell out, 'Pigs' and other derogatory terms at us," wrote Officer Jose Jimenez, who used his baton to push protesters onto the sidewalk. Others say members of antifa flipped them off, called them "bastards," and one woman "exposed her buttocks."
A few officers tucked their preconceived beliefs about antifa into their report.
"Antifa members were acting as an anonymous crowd and failed to follow lawful orders after being warned, that failing those lawful orders, force could be used against them," writes Sergeant Jim Mooney. "It is standard practice for avowed anarchists (Antifa) to resist authority they do not recognize as legitimate."
A note: Antifa and anarchists are not historically synonymous groups.
None of the people targeted by PPB munitions mentioned in the use-of-force reports appeal to be affiliated with Patriot Prayer—only antifa.
Fawcett, the woman who was burned by a flash-bang, told the Guardian she never heard a warning from police before officers fired the grenades.
PPB officers’ reports corroborate this. All of the officers who fired munitions said they did not give a warning, because loudspeakers attached to PPB’s “sound trucks” were already telling protesters that "riot control agents" may be used against them if they don’t follow police orders. Others said the scene was too loud, and a warning wouldn’t have been heard anyway.
There’s one significant piece of officers’ use-of-force reports that remain redacted: Details about Tracy Molina, a protester who was pushed to the ground by an officer attempting to pull a sign out of her hands. A video of the incident shows several other officers piling on top of Molina after she hits the ground. Molina, who sustained bruises and an elbow injury, filed a tort claim in January, signaling her intent to sue PPB over the incident—which explains why all mentions of her interaction with officers is blacked out.
Just last month, the City of Portland hired an outside contractor, National Police Foundation (NPF), to investigate the crowd control tactics PPB officers used during the August 4 protest. According to the city’s $200,000 contract with the NPF, the group has until January 31, 2020 to finish its investigation.
This means that any lessons from officer’s conduct won’t be made public until after another wave of summer protests hit Portland.
Days after the August 4 clash, PPB Chief Outlaw told reporters she had directed PPB staff to begin an internal review of officers' actions during the protest. It’s unknown when that review will be made public.
At the same press conference, Outlaw defended her officers’ decision to use force against the public.
"It was going to be a very rowdy, physically violent ruckus, and it was not that because of the actions that the officers took," Outlaw said. "Though the worst was avoided, some individuals sustained injuries.”
Outlaw was more candid a week later during an interview conservative talk show host Lars Larson, where she compared officers' interactions with counter-protesters to a schoolyard fight.
"I come with the intention to fight," she told Larson. "And then you get mad because I kicked your butt."