Days before a series of protests were expected in Portland, the mayor’s office sent a request to the governor, asking her to keep Oregon National Guardsmen on standby in case the protests escalated.
Newly released documents show that the state’s military department denied the city’s request — but told the FBI that, not city officials.
Mayor Ted Wheeler formally requested that Gov. Kate Brown place more than 100 troops on standby for Aug. 17 protests, in which right-wing activists clashed with a much larger group of left-wing demonstrators.
In a memo to Brown on Aug. 16, her public safety policy adviser Constantin Severe details an Aug. 12 meeting involving Brown, Wheeler and several law enforcement officials, including representatives from the Oregon State Police, the Portland Police Bureau and the FBI.
Severe notes that at that meeting, five days before the protest, the city made two requests to the state — to have state police deploy a mobile response team to help with crowd control, and to get the Oregon Air National Guard to place 120 guardsmen on standby to be deployed in case the protests last more than 14 hours.
The state granted the first request, but the letter says both National Guard and state police executives were uncomfortable with deploying guardsmen to the protest. State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton and Adjutant General Michael Stencel met with governor’s office staff again two days before the protest and said their opinion had not changed. They said the guard would monitor the situation in Portland and mobilize if necessary.
But documents show that state employees never directly conveyed that decision to the city.
In an Aug. 13 letter, Stencel responded to FBI Special Agent Renn Cannon, saying that the Oregon Military Department would not be providing troops for crowd control.
“We do not foresee a civil disturbance rising to a level or size that requires placing Oregon National Guard service members in a forward posture,” Stencel wrote.
On Aug. 15, Wheeler’s chief of staff, Kristin Dennis, responded to Gina Zejdlik, who works in the governor’s office, expressing concern that Stencel had only contacted the FBI and hadn’t responded directly to city officials.
Dennis said an email chain, directed to Cannon, was the only written notification the city had received regarding their request to the governor. In the email, she said she was concerned that the state had misunderstood the city’s request.
“In this email, the Adjutant General is indicating that the governor’s decision about ‘placing Oregon National Guard service members in a forward posture’ is based on the ‘level and size’ of the civil disturbance. Our request was about the duration of the event.” Dennis continued that she wanted to make sure the governor’s office was denying the city’s actual request.
Email records also show that reporters from nearly every print and television news agency in the area, as well as some from outside Portland, contacted staff members from the governor’s office to confirm that the National Guard had been called for the protests.
The Oregonian first asked the governor’s office whether officials would be mobilizing the National Guard on July 31, two and a half weeks before the protest. All of those requests were ignored or received standard “out of office” responses from the governor’s employees.