By Gordon R. Friedman
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Tuesday denied claims by the union representing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement employees that city police officers would not respond to their urgent calls for service during a recent occupation by protesters.
Through attorney Sean Riddell, the union on Monday criticized the mayor for his laissez faire approach to a protest at the local ICE field office, which lasted five weeks. When the protest began, Wheeler announced that he would not allow Portland police officers to be "sucked into a conflict" over the protest and said federal police would be responsible for protecting their own building and property.
Riddell's complaint was that Wheeler was "forbidding" officers from responding to ICE employees' calls and had "created a zone of terror" for workers at the field office.
Wheeler, in a letter responding to Riddell's charges, said vehemently that the city has no policy of not responding to ICE employees' calls for service. He cast the union's accusations that it does "inaccurate and inflammatory."
The mayor said city police did in fact respond to 911 calls from ICE and Federal Protective Services employees "when there were imminent life safety threats." Employees of those agencies faced harassment and threats during the field office protest.
Wheeler also accused Riddell of being unable to substantiate claims of nonresponsive calls for service.
When informally questioned by a city attorney, Riddell did not assert that Portland police officers failed to respond to reports of imminent life-threatening danger, Wheeler wrote. Asked to back up his earlier claim that officers didn't show up after urgent calls, Riddell apparently cited unconfirmed reports from sources he could not divulge, the mayor's letter said.
Riddell said Tuesday that he "never claimed" the police did not respond to 911 calls. Instead, he said he provided the city with evidence the police did not respond to calls made by ICE employees to the police non-emergency line for "assistance in handling the crowd" at the protest.
Riddell said he still expects Wheeler to make Portland police officers respond to ICE employees' calls the same as they would to anyone else's. Riddell said a lawsuit is possible if the city does not make changes.
"If Mr. Wheeler continues to treat my clients differently than everybody else we will have no other recourse," Riddell said.
(c)2018 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)