The union representing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement employees has asked state and federal officials to open a criminal investigation of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler over his direction of the police response to ICE protests this summer.
The politically pointed gesture, designed to call attention to Wheeler’s stance against immigration enforcement actions, goes as far as to suggest he should temporarily give up his duties as police commissioner.
In letters sent Wednesday to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the National ICE Council asks officials to probe whether Wheeler committed official misconduct or violated the Constitution by directing Portland police officers not to respond to some calls for service during a lengthy protest the ICE field office in Portland.
Wheeler responded with outrage and faulted the lawyer who wrote the letters, Sean Riddell, for making what Wheeler said was serial misrepresentations of what occurred.
“Make no mistake. They are coming after me because I am a vocal opponent of the administration’s policy of separating kids from their parents,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Previous claims made by Sean Riddell have fallen apart upon further inspection and these claims, if investigated, will too.”
Kristina Edmunson, a spokeswoman for Rosenblum, said her office has received the union’s letter and is reviewing it. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon referred questions to the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.
In the letters on behalf of the union, Riddell cites Wheeler’s public statements and messages sent by a mayoral aide and a Portland Police Bureau captain directing police to respond to the protest only if there were an immediate threat to lives or safety. Riddell served as a deputy Oregon attorney general during Democrat John Kroger’s time as attorney general.
Wheeler has said he detests the actions of ICE agents to separate some children and parents facing deportation; his statements drew a personal rebuke from President Trump.
In his statement Wednesday, he added to those criticisms. “Now we know many of these kids will be permanently orphaned as a result,” Wheeler said. “That is wrong. I’m outraged by it.”
The mayor had also previously responded to Riddell’s critiques by saying the city did nothing wrong, arguing Portland’s hands-off approach was necessary to protect protesters’ free speech rights.
Riddell wrote that Wheeler, as mayor and police commissioner, has a duty to enforce all laws of Portland and the state of Oregon. Riddell said Wheeler did not enforce laws that bar rioting, harassment, disorderly conduct and unlawful camping, according to the letters, first reported by the Portland Tribune and independently obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
During the long protest, demonstrators blocked areas around the ICE field office, located off Southwest Macadam Boulevard. They set up makeshift camps and at times clashed with federal police officers, resulting in arrests. In all, federal police arrested 19 people, mostly for trying to block the entrance to the immigration agency’s office or for tearing police tape demarcating the federal property line. Three of them were arrested for allegedly assaulting a federal officer.
Wheeler said at the time that he wanted to allow federal police to enforce laws on the property of the federal immigration office rather than have city police do so.
Riddell said the mayor directed city police not to respond to some calls for service “to advance his own personal political agenda, advance his political career and punish citizens he perceived to hold alternative political beliefs.”
According to a state law cited by Riddell, a public servant commits official misconduct if he or she knowingly fails to perform a duty of their office or commits an unauthorized excess of authority with the intent to benefit or harm another person. Prosecutions under the statute are exceedingly rare.
Riddell said that should an investigation be launched, Wheeler ought to temporarily give up his duties as police commissioner.