Portland police officers—ominously warning that they've been combing through video footage of the November 3 anti-austerity protest that saw some two-dozen people eat painful pepper spray—have made a second arrest in connection with the otherwise festive, peaceful event.
Yesterday, police announced the arrest of Michael Jay Miguel Hernandez, 30, and said he faces charges including disorderly conduct, and more seriously, the attempted assault of an officer. His alleged crime? According to a news release:
Hernandez "placed his bicycle in front of a Portland Police Officer who was blocking the intersection on the north side of Northeast Halsey Street with his police bike. Hernandez then attempted to push through the officer using both bikes."
The police say Hernandez was picked up without incident at SE 20th and Salmon—riding the same bike as on November 3, the release makes sure to point out. (His friends say that happened Friday, November 9—long after the protest and well before the arrest was announced.)
But there appears to be more to the story, according to video of the altercation and comments from witnesses. And let me add, before I go on, that I can personally testify to the idea that cops in these situations can be testy about the mistaken perception of a threat.
Based on footage of the protest, it appears Hernandez really was up against a police line during the larger confrontation.
But his gaze (he's the guy in the flat cap down near the lower right) appears to be trained on what was a looming confrontation between wooden-and-canvas-sign-carrying marchers and bike cops, not on the cop right in front of him. It looks like he tried to get a closer look when the pepper spray erupted, and that's when the cop in front of him objected. Friends say their bikes got tangled and Hernandez was trying to free his up—and was pepper sprayed himself.
He eventually moved back toward the cowering crowd where, later, footage shows him nearly being laid out by a riot officer who surged up while Hernandez had his back turned and gave him a major shove with his baton.
Participants in the march and Hernandez's friends are apoplectic. They've defended him as a gentle person who served for eight years as a military mechanic.
And they're raising a stink about the timing of the arrest and its serious charge—coming after days of dubious press clippings for the police bureau after nearly a dozen high school students marching in the protest rallied at city hall last week to report being those the cops sprayed.
Nick Caleb, an attorney and college professor who's become an organizer, posted an essay today on Blue Oregon criticizing the officers in that incident for posing with an Elvis impersonator and celebrating—a claim he made in front of Portland City Council at a meeting last Thursday.
After viewing videos of the incident over and over, from different vantage points, I'm not sure where the alleged crimes are committed. Whatever is going on, it's clear that Mike is not the aggressor and if he were violent or intending to assault an officer, he had plenty opportunity to do it.... The PPB, in their press release to the media on Sunday, added an edited version of the pepper spraying incident that removed the riot cop slamming Mike in the back.
Complaints have already begun hitting the city's Independent Police Review office over the pepper-spraying during the November 3 protest. But the police bureau continues to describe what happened as a "violent" struggle and says it respectfully disagrees with the suggestion that its officers over-reacted.
Sergeant Pete Simpson, a bureau spokesman, told me last week when asked about the complaints of the teenagers who gathered at city hall:
As far as their characterization of the incident, I'd say the video clearly shows that it was violent and ramming and would add that nobody has the right to shove or push police officers in this manner. The street to the east (Halsey) was wide open for the unpermitted march to continue, with a police escort. The people in the front of the crowd put on masks and goggles, and retrieved the ramming shields. They were there for a confrontation with police; they initiated it, and it was a defining moment in the march.
Just like many marches in the past, unsuspecting demonstrators show up for one thing and the movement gets hijacked by the Black Bloc-types. It's unfortunate that it happened but it only happened because of the actions of the crowd with the signs.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!