Antifa demonstrators opposing a right-wing free speech rally on June 4. Some of these folks were later caught up in a police kettle.
Antifa demonstrators opposing a right-wing "free speech" rally on June 4. Some of these folks were later caught up in a police kettle. Aaron Lee

Portland Police detained a group a group of marching antifa protesters on June 4 as a means of deescalating "the threat of violence" between the group and a nearby right-wing rally, Police Chief Mike Marshman now says.

That nugget is one of several included in a letter sent to Mayor Ted Wheeler this week, in which Marshman addressed five questions the mayor put to him on June 13.

"The temporary detention of these persons was done after consultation with the City Attorney’s Office and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office," Marshman writes, of a police "kettle" of demonstrators and journalists near SW 4th and Morrison. He notes: "The brief detention (which ranged from a few minutes to about under an hour depending on the speed with which the person was processed) also served to deescalate the threat of violence between groups. While the Chapman Square group was being detained the federal officers closed down Terry Shrunk Plaza and required everyone to vacate the Plaza."

The kettling—and the decision to force protesters to have their photos taken—was among the more controversial moves by authorities on June 4, when right-wing Trump supporters in Terry Schrunk Plaza squared off with counter-demonstrators on three sides. A sizeable police presence at the event pre-empted serious violence, but there were skirmishes between police and "anti-fascist" demonstrators gathered in Chapman Square.

In the aftermath of the rallies, Wheeler had asked Marshman:

•How the Portland Police Bureau coordinates with event organizers on private security (a question based on a right-wing militia member assisting federal officers with an arrest)

•How PPB decides to wear "riot gear" at events, as officers were on June 4.

•How cops made the decision to deploy "crowd control devices" against demonstrators.

•How cops ensure that peaceful protesters aren't affected by such devices?

•Why police made the decision to "kettle" and photograph demonstrators, a move that the ACLU of Oregon has said might be unconstitutional.

Marshman's response is chock full of the dry technical language the chief frequently uses to describe police tactics, but it's not without interest. Here it is:

The chief notes in the letter that "PPB recognizes that wearing full PPE ["personal protective equipment," or riot gear] makes it more difficult for officers to interact freely with members of the public and that it is perceived negatively by some members of the public."

But Marshman also argues that the threat of violence at the June 4 rallies was severe enough to merit it. The chief includes with his letter a picture of a bruise on a Portland officer's arm, which was apparently caused when someone hurled a brick.

"We believe his injuries would have been far more severe had he been wearing a standard patrol uniform," the letter says.

Marshman says demonstrators were throwing more than bricks. He says people in Chapman Square hurled "urine and feces filled balloons," along with marbles and rocks. When police told protesters to back up, Marshman says, "some members of the counter protest group responded violently to the announcement to move north by hurling additional bricks, bottles, fireworks and other small explosive items at officers."

Marshman tells Wheeler police using pepper spray and other devices try not to hit peaceful demonstrators, but that it's not possible "to completely avoid the risk that individuals," who are not themselves the intended target, will suffer the consequences of such devices when they are used."

The June 4 "free speech" rally, organized by Vancouver-based right-wing vlogger Joey Gibson, followed closely on the heels of a triple stabbing on a MAX train that left two men dead. The suspect in that killing, Jeremy Christian, is a vocal white supremacist known to justify his actions by shouting about free speech.

Given all this, the environment around the June 4 rally was highly charged. As Trump supporters made their way into Schrunk Plaza for the event, counter-protests amassed on three sides of the park.

It was in Chapman Square that trouble broke out. Police eventually pushed the antifa demonstrators there toward the north end of the park, using pepper spray and flashbangs. When demonstrators were finally pushed from the park, they took to the streets.

But the police "kettling" and photographing maneuver spurred the most outcry and confusion. That wasn't helped when Marshman told OPB days later that the photos had never been taken, and that such a strategy wasn't Portland police practice (it turns out the chief was at home while it went down, not watching events transpire from a police command center).

In his letter, Marshman stands by the tactic that he didn't know existed, not acknowledging the controversy surrounding them.

"The decision to photograph identification was made to speed up the process," he writes. "Writing down each person’s information would have taken much longer. The photographs were uploaded to the DIMS system where it is currently being used by detectives investigating criminal behavior. Any photographs not used in a criminal investigation will be purged pursuant to PPB policy."