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New Texts Offer Window Into Portland Officer's Relationship With Protest Groups

<p>A police officer watches the crowd at a pro-Trump free speech rally in Portland, Oregon, Sunday, June 4, 2017.&nbsp;</p>

Bryan M. Vance


A police officer watches the crowd at a pro-Trump free speech rally in Portland, Oregon, Sunday, June 4, 2017. 

For the past week, a single lieutenant at the Portland Police Bureau has become the flashpoint in a debate over whether the police have shown a bias toward right wing groups over their left wing counterparts during the past two years of demonstrations and street battles.

Lt. Jeff Niiya has been temporarily removed as the bureau’s liaison to protesters, after the Willamette Week and Portland Mercury published text messages the mayor and two city commissioners have said raise questions about whether Niiya was too cozy with right wing groups.

In advance of a community listening session with the mayor and the police chief Thursday, PPB released Niiya’s police report following one of the most high-profile demonstrations he worked – a June 4, 2017, Patriot Prayer protest and massive counter demonstration. That event took place in the weeks after a man on a Portland light rail train used racial slurs, and killed two people.

The report includes a full account of texts Niiya, who was then a PPB sergeant, exchanged with a broad range of right and left wing protest groups.

While Niiya’s union has aggressively defended him, the new records provide, for the first time, Niiya’s own account of the relationships he was building with protesters.

They show Niiya communicating with members of the OathKeepers and Patriot Prayer — as well as with left-wing counter protesters.

In his police report, Niiya said he was trying to talk to people on all sides of the demonstration to avoid a potential violent conflict.

“I felt the possibility of a serious assault or injury was to be expected,” he wrote.  “My outreach and recommendations to the Bureau were to minimize this possibility while allowing all participants to exercise their rights safely. I believe the cooperation we received from everyone involved assisted in not having major confrontations between the protesters.”

In Niiya’s police report, he notes that members of the group Patriot Prayer appeared to be deliberately spreading the message on social media that they have a special relationship with the police.

“I had seen posts online in which people were saying the police were working with or supporting the patriot movement. This was not acceptable and I wanted Gibson and the others to stop these types of messages,” he wrote in the June 10 report.

Niiya refers to Patriot Prayer as an alt-right group, while mentioning that many members of the public believe Gibson’s demonstrations attract Nazis and white supremacists.

“Gibson had attracted well known Alt-Right speakers to come to his event. Some of these speakers have made statements in the past which have contributed to the public's beliefs,” Niiya wrote. 

The new records cover just one demonstration – while the text messages published by the Willamette Week and Portland Mercury span months of communications between Niiya and Gibson. And the report released Thursday doesn’t address Niiya’s most controversial text to Gibson – in which he told him about an arrest warrant for a member of his group.

Below are examples of the texts Niiya sent to protest organizers during the June 4 rally:  

Lawrence Cavallero, lead for security detail for Patriot Prayer: “It goes without saying but a huge thank you from my group. Your officers did an outstanding job and we are extremely grateful.”

Niiya: “Thank you for working with us. I appreciate the cooperation.”

Niiya: "Good morning Sir. Sgt Niiya here. I would like pictures of those who will be armed. I don't want a blue on blue issue."

Brian Krogman, Oathkeepers: "As soon as our group is assembled I'll send those. At this point we have ONE CCW holder who WILL NOT be in the park but I will confirm ASAP and send photos."

Niiya: "Being told black Bloch made their way into your group FYI. Can the peacekeepers get them out?"

Jamie Partridge, counter protest organizer: "We’re doing our best. We’re asking them to unmask and give up weapons."

Siobhan Burke, designated peacekeeper by counter protesters:  "We can’t hear that loudspeaker — is that instructions from the police"

Niiya: "It's telling people to not jaywalk and to stay in their parks. You guys are good. Working on getting you another lane of traffic."

Burke:"Seeing more black bloc heading onto 4th. One guy had stuff to throw."

Niiya: "Ok we will let your peacekeepers work on that."

Niiya: "Good morning Star. This is Sgt Niiya. I wanted to reach out and say I hope there is no violence today. I have warned the patriots if they try and come across the street to Chapman they will be arrested. I know you and your friends do not like us, but I am really trying my best to keep the police just in between and allow everyone to voice their opinions. This is my work cell so feel free to text me or call me if you or others your around need anything. My only role today is to communicate with as many people as I can to keep it safe. Thanks Jeff."

Star Stauffer, left wing activist: "I can assure you that anyone showing up to counter is likely doing so with the intent to maintain peace. Please tell your officers to remember these are the community they serve. Who do you protect? Who do you serve? Today we’ll see."

Niiya: "I will."

Niiya: "Just to keep you informed and also if you can pass it along. I have (warned) the patriots if they are in the street they are subject to arrest. Can you please ask your folks on Chapman to stay out of the street as well? Thank you."

Mimi German, left wing activist: "We know."

Niiya:"Ok I just want you to know I'm telling the same thing to the patriots."

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Amelia Templeton is a multimedia reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting, covering Portland city hall, justice and local news. She was previously a reporter for EarthFix, an award-winning public media project covering the environment in the Northwest.