On Sept. 5, the 100th consecutive night of Portland protests against police brutality, a Black single father landed in the hospital. He says the cause was an unprovoked blow to the head by a Portland police officer.
That evening, Elijah Warren, 36, walked from his home on Southeast 115th Avenue and Washington Street to an intersection two blocks away to talk to police about the tear gas wafting into his house.
Around 10 pm, he says he approached a group of around five officers standing on the corner of Southeast Stark Street and 117th Avenue, directly across from Ventura Park, where protesters had already been forcefully dispersed by police.
He says he began a civil conversation with one of them, telling him how the gas had seeped into his home and burned the eyes of his teenage son and the family dog. The officer was listening to him talk when Warren says another officer hit him behind his ear with a baton.
"I didn't even know it was a police officer," Warren says. "My first reaction was to put my hands up to defend myself, and then it ended up being a police officer."
Warren says police were yelling among themselves in the moments after the officer struck him, pulling away the officer and telling him that Warren was a homeowner.
"Like, what do you mean: It's wrong because I am a homeowner?" Warren says. "But with protesters it would've been OK?"
His sister, Elisha Warren, says she was standing directly beside her brother and witnessed it happen.
"He hit him so fast, I couldn't even tell that it was a baton. I thought he punched my brother in the ear," she says. "They had no reason to hit Elijah."
Warren says he plans to sue the city. But he still doesn't know the name of the officer who struck him. The officer had covered his nametag. All Warren saw was the cop's helmet number, which he says was 67.
Warren's injury, first reported earlier this month by KOIN-TV, displays a bleak paradox: After nearly four months of protests aimed at greater police accountability, some citizens say the Portland Police Bureau is less accountable to the public than ever.
Shortly after protests of George Floyd's killing began in May, Portland police officers began taping over their badges to hide their names, saying they feared protesters would "dox" them—that is, reveal their names, home addresses and other personal information online to threaten their safety. As WW reported this summer, when lawyer Alan Kessler asked the Police Bureau for names associated with badge numbers, the bureau refused to release them—and the Multnomah County district attorney said police didn't have to furnish the names.
The covering of badges is taking place even as Portland protests increasingly shift from downtown courthouses into residential neighborhoods. Some observers say that means people who live in those neighborhoods get different access to justice, depending on whether a protest is occurring nearby.
City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty says she recently learned that officers were covering their names while at protests but not anywhere else in town.
"If you're in Southwest Portland and a police officer treats you disrespectfully or uses excessive force, you would be able to look at the badge and see the name, write it down and file a complaint," she says. "When they bring out riot police, that's when they decide that they don't have to tell you who they are."
The Police Bureau says it's providing the public with sufficient information by requiring officers to display badge numbers. "This is to provide a way for the public to still identify officers for a complaint or commendation and a process to limit the doxxing of officers," said PPB public information officer Derek Carmon in a response to WW's questions.
City policy says citizens have the right to know the names of officers. But it's not clear if any elected official has the will to enforce that policy.
WW asked Mayor Ted Wheeler's office whether citizens who feel they have been brutalized by police were entitled to the officer's badge number.
Spokesman Tim Becker said yes. "It's bureau policy that identification be made available, and the mayor expects that employees are honoring this policy," Becker said.
So WW sent an email to the Police Bureau with questions regarding the identity of the officer who allegedly struck Warren. WW asked about this incident specifically and whether the officer had been taken off street duty. Carmon said the bureau could not release any information about the incident—because it's part of an open investigation. (PPB's standards and practices division referred Warren's allegation to Independent Police Review on Sept. 8, after a story aired on KOIN-TV.)
But the bureau could identify the officer if it chose to do so. The investigatory exemption to Oregon's Public Records Law is "conditional," meaning the bureau could release the information if it wanted to. "The record of an arrest or the report of a crime shall be disclosed unless and only for so long as there is a clear need to delay disclosure in the course of a specific investigation, including the need to protect the complaining party or the victim," the law says.
Independent Police Review director Ross Caldwell confirmed an open investigation into Warren's case was pending and that the agency had been successful in identifying officers using helmet numbers before. He adds that Portland police officers did not cover their badge numbers before the death of George Floyd.
"As far as having permission to [cover nametags], I've never heard of that happening before," Caldwell said.
Hardesty says Warren's story illustrates the need for a police accountability initiative she guided to the November ballot.
Hardesty's ballot measure, which would create an independent community police oversight board, would allow the board to receive complaints and give it the authority to compel testimony and conduct investigations with civilian investigators. It's not clear whether that would provide more leverage to compel the Police Bureau to release officers' names.
"What happens now under IPR is, police investigate police," Hardesty says. "The system I'm building is a system that requires community to hold police accountable for inappropriate behaviors."
Wheeler's spokesman Jim Middaugh says the mayor supports the reforms on the November ballot, but he wouldn't compel police to release a name amid an open investigation.
"The mayor agrees that police officers need to be readily identifiable for accountability purposes, but at the same time many of our officers have been doxxed or been threatened or had their kids threatened," says Middaugh. "I think his instinct would be to not be releasing names until we can reform the system. I don't think anybody would like it if the mayor made a statement after watching a single video and it turned out that that person who should've been held accountable wasn't as a result of his public comment."
Warren's story appears to have substantial corroboration.
Laura Creamer, a neighbor of Warren's, says she saw him right after the incident happened.
"Around 11:30 pm, I looked out the window and I saw a man walking toward my house waving at me. I open the door and it's Elijah," Creamer says. "He's bleeding from the ear and obviously really upset. He tells me immediately that he was hit by a cop."
WW viewed video taken by a bystander that shows a chaotic scene along Southeast Stark Street. It appears to show an officer striking Warren behind the ear.
Once Warren made it back to his house, his brother-in-law drove him to Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside hospital, where Warren was diagnosed with a concussion, according to medical forms reviewed by WW. His medical bills were $1,700.
Warren had only attended two protests prior to Sept. 5. But now he plans to attend many more because of what happened to him and his family. He joined demonstrators on Saturday, Sept. 26, near the bureau's North Precinct, openly carrying an AR pistol as an example for other Black Portlanders. He says the assault changed him.
"It brought race right back into the forefront of my heart," Warren says. "This is why they're out there marching—because of what they just did to me, an innocent Black man."