Portland city commissioner walks back claim that cops, not protesters, are setting fires

Sen. Fred Girod on chaos in Portland: Peaceful demonstrations morphed into full-fledged riots

Portland city commissioner has walked back a claim that it was police, not protesters, who were responsible for fires during riots in the city — apologizing after the Portland police challenged the claim.

“I want people to know that I do not believe there’s any protesters in Portland that are setting fires, that are creating crisis. I absolutely believe it’s police action, and they’re sending saboteurs and provocateurs into peaceful crowds so they justify their inhumane treatment of people who are standing up for their rights,” Jo Ann Hardesty had said Wednesday at a national briefing, according to The Oregonian.

Sen. Jeff Merkley reportedly spoke before her. Merkley has not responded to a request for comment from Fox News on the city commissioner's remarks. Fox News also reached out to fellow Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, also a Democrat, for comment but has not heard back.

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Portland has faced weeks of rioting since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. In July, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent law enforcement in to protect federal monuments and property — in particular the Hatfield Courthouse. Some local politicians and officials have accused DHS of escalating the situation and of heavy-handed tactics.

Hardesty, however, went a step further, blaming police for the fires being set near the courthouse. Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf has warned that if law enforcement leaves, protesters will likely burn down the courthouse.

Hardesty, a Democrat, had echoed her claim about police involvement to Marie Claire: “I am old enough to remember that during the civil rights movement, the police had provocateurs… intentionally added to the group to do disruptive stuff.”

“I have no doubt in my mind, I believe with all my heart, that that is what Portland police are doing,” she said.

The claim quickly brought an angry response from the local police, with Police Chief Chuck Lovell saying that her claim “strains credulity.”

“I am interested in seeing what evidence she has to support her accusations. I'm disappointed that an elected official would make a statement like this without providing specific facts to support it,” he said. “This allegation is completely false,”

Hardesty later apologized, saying she “let my emotions get the most of me during and the comment I made to the press.”

In a lengthy statement, reported by KPTV, she said that she was “angry, frustrated, and horrified by what has happened these past 50 days” and that she feared someone would be killed “because of an officers’ inability to de-escalate or walk away from a situation.”

She went on to reiterate that in the civil rights movement, “people have been sent to infiltrate these spaces to create incidents that justify [enhanced] police actions” but admitted that the claims were “unfounded.”

“We all have bad days but most of them don’t happen publicly. I have always said we can disagree without being disagreeable, but today I did not meet that standard, and I’m sorry," she said.

In the initial briefing, she also took an apparent shot at Mayor Ted Wheeler, as she claimed that federal officers were targeting “sanctuary” cities that protect illegal immigrants from deportation by refusing to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.

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“I asked the mayor, ‘Who do you think they’re grabbing off the street?’ Well, ah, ah,” she said, mimicking Wheeler, according to The Oregonian.

“And he says, ‘Well, a sanctuary city just means we don’t work with ICE.’ And I said, ‘Well, who do you think the border patrol works with?' So we have an ignorance at the highest levels in our city government,” she said.

Wheeler attempted to participate in a “listening session” with protesters on Wednesday night but was booed by the crowd.

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