What We Know About a Portland Cop's Friendly Texts with a Far-Right Leader
Activists are pissed.
Hundreds of texts published Thursday by Willamette Week showed that a high-level member of the Portland Police Department had a "friendly rapport" with local far-right activist Joey Gibson, whose group, Patriot Prayer, has a history of violence in the area. As you might expect, left-wing and anarchist activists have quickly gone apeshit.
What the paper revealed through a public records request was not on its face all that shocking: Cops communicate with bad guys—which is to say people of a wide variety of ideologies—on the regular. But in the Portland case, the paper honed in on a police officer in charge of managing protests appeared to try to help Tusitala "Tiny" Toese—a man described as Gibson's right-hand man—avoid arrest on an open warrant. In December of 2017, the cop in question, Portland Police Lieutenant Jeff Niiya, suggested that he would not arrest Toese unless he committed a new offense, and alluded to cops having avoided booking the man in the past.
"Just make sure he doesn't do anything which may draw our attention," Niiya texted Gibson of Toese. "If he still has the warrant in the system (I don't run you guys so I don't personally know) the officers could arrest him. I don't see a need to arrest on the warrant unless there is a reason."
Niiya also wished Gibson well on a 2018 US Senate run that failed badly.
The city's mayor, Ted Wheeler, has since called for an investigation of the saga, though whether it would be conducted within the Portland Police Bureau or not was a sticking point, given the initial defense offered by cops.
"It is not uncommon for officers to provide guidance for someone to turn themselves in on a warrant if the subject is not present," Lt. Tina Jones told Willamette Week in a statement, adding, "In crowd management situations, it may not be safe or prudent to arrest a person right at that time, so the arrest may be delayed or followed up on later. There is no way of knowing how often this happens, as it is not something we track."
If nothing else, the revelation quickly enraged left-wing and anarchist leaders who have long suspected cops were way too cozy with the far-right. “American police forces were founded to protect white supremacy and the ruling class that enforces it,” Olivia Smith, co-chair of Portland’s Democratic Socialists of America, told the Daily Beast. “This was sort of a given for us, but now we have actual concrete evidence supporting what we already know."
Indeed, there's a somewhat disturbing level of good will that characterizes the dialogue between Niiya and Gibson given the larger national context. As the New York Times Magazine reported in November, cops under Trump have struggled with how to address the threat of emboldened white supremacists; the lead-up to the deadly events in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, right-wing planners discussed the seemingly widely-held perception that cops were on their side.
But an argument could be made that these kinds of communications, however unnerving, actually serve to prevent street brawls, or as the WW put it, at the very least, to "collect intelligence from right-wing organizers." I attended the second Unite the Right protest last year in Washington, DC, for instance, where police were criticized for seeming to essentially give far-right protestors their own subway car as they moved to rally on the National Mall. That might be enraging on its face but could well have prevented a fist-fight or worse.
Still, the fodder for left-wing police critics was ample. When WW asked Gibson for comment on his ties to Niiya, his response over text was simply: "Sweet."
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