For the first time in Portland's history, an officer is facing criminal charges for using force against a member of the public during a protest.
On Tuesday, a Multnomah County grand jury accused Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officer Corey Budworth of fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor, for assaulting photojournalist Teri Jacobs during an August 2020 protest. Budworth, who was only identifiable as "Officer 37" at the time—thanks to PPB's decision to remove officer names from uniforms last summer—was caught on film hitting Jacobs on the back of her head with a baton shortly after 11 pm on August 18 near the Multnomah Building on SE Hawthorne.
"It was really scary because it felt like Officer 37 was targeting me for documenting the protest, when I clearly wasn’t posing a threat," said Jacobs in September, when she filed a lawsuit against PPB and the city for the assault. "He showed total disregard for my life and safety.”
In April, the city agreed to pay a $50,000 settlement to Jacobs, effectively terminating the lawsuit.
Here's the video of Budworth's alleged assault against Jacobs:
Cop 37 shoves woman hitting her from behind in the head with baton, then hits her again in the face with baton while she is sitting on the ground pic.twitter.com/t4phwbWpsK
— John #FreePalestine (@Johnnthelefty) August 19, 2020
The Multnomah County District Attorney's office (MCDA) had not begun investigating Budworth for this attack until Jacobs sued the city. In a Tuesday press statement, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt thanked PPB officers for their dedication to investigating "one of their own" to build the public's trust in the justice system.
"[When] a police officer’s use of force is excessive and lacks a justification under the law, the integrity of our criminal justice system requires that we, as prosecutors, act as a mechanism for accountability," said Schmidt.
He continued: "In this case, we allege that no legal justification existed for Officer Budworth’s deployment of force, and that the deployment of force was legally excessive under the circumstances."
The allegations contradict the findings of city-level investigations into Budworth's conduct. According to the Oregonian, the police bureau's internal investigation into Budworth's conduct determined it was unintentional and the Independent Police Review—the non-PPB city department that investigates police misconduct allegations—characterized the baton hit as a "push."
Attorneys with the US Department of Justice have criticized PPB for its heavy-handed use of force against protesters in 2020, referencing this specific incident as an example.
In a press release, PPB Chief Chuck Lovell noted that the internal PPB investigation into Budworth's case has yet to conclude.
"Law enforcement is held to a higher standard and must constantly strive to live up to that standard," said Lovell. "I ask for the community’s patience as we follow the guidelines of the established internal accountability process."
The police bureau's rank-and-file union, the Portland Police Association (PPA), has pushed back against the indictment, claiming Budworth has simply been "caught in the crossfire of agenda-driven city leaders and a politicized criminal justice system."
In a press release, PPA Director Daryl Turner defended Budworth's actions, instead placing blame on Jacobs and other protesters at the August 18 demonstration.
"[Budworth] faced a violent and chaotic, rapidly evolving situation, and he used the lowest level of baton force—a push; not a strike or a jab—to remove Ms. Jacobs from the area," said Turner. "Ignoring the reality of the violent nature of the crowd and Ms. Jacob’s criminal activity, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office has now charged Officer Budworth with a crime for his permissible use of force. Officer Budworth did exactly as he was trained."
Turner and the PPA have criticized Schmidt in the past year for choosing not to prosecute protesters who are arrested for low-level crimes, instead focusing his attention on charging people arrested for assault, theft, or property damage. As of June 11, MCDA has rejected 80 percent of all charges brought against protesters since the city's racial justice protests began in late May 2020.
Juan Chavez, a civil rights attorney who represented Jacobs in her lawsuit against the city, said he was grateful to learn about Budworth's indictment.
"After the last decade of Black Lives Matter protests, I would hope that the public would come to understand that the police is not above the law," said Chavez. "I hope the police understand that. But I think it will take more cases like this for officers to really understand this."
The court has yet to schedule an arraignment for Budworth, where he'll be read his charges. Budworth will not be arrested for the accusation, as the indictment does not accompany a warrant.