Text Messages Show Portland Police Chief and Mayor’s Staff in Icy Dialogue Over Arrests of Political Brawlers

"Does this mean you'll be coming out with us?" asked Chief Danielle Outlaw.

Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw (Sam Gehrke)

On Nov. 5, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler's then-chief of staff sent a group text to recipients who included Police Chief Danielle Outlaw, prodding her to arrest right-wing brawlers. She did not appear to appreciate his suggestion.

A transcript of the exchange was obtained by WW via a public records request.

The texts:

Michael Cox, then the mayor's chief of staff: "I'm sure you saw this op-ed in The Oregonian over the weekend. This quote is getting particular attention.
"'Those who claim Portland police and prosecutors don't have the tools to arrest, charge and prosecute perpetrators caught on camera engaging in gang assaults, some with illegal weapons, deserve only howls of outrage and derision.'
"Although no one is actually making this argument, it is a powerful straw man, and I continue to be flabbergasted that we allow it to persist. Absent arrests, we should all be prepared to hear much more of this on Thursday."

Chief Danielle Outlaw: "Does this mean you'll be coming out with us on the 17th, Mr. Cox?"

The subtext:

Since November, tensions have increased between Wheeler's office and the Portland Police Bureau over whom police arrest at protests. Back then, the two offices seemed to work hand in hand to advocate for an ordinance that would have made it easier for police to keep warring protest groups separate. (It failed before the City Council on Nov. 14.)

Last month, WW reported on text messages exchanged between Lt. Jeff Niiya and Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson. Now, the mayor's office and Police Bureau are openly criticizing one another.

Within hours of WW's story on the texts, Wheeler called the messages "disturbing" and ordered an internal investigation of Niiya's communications with far-right activists. He later approved an independent investigation to examine whether Portland police show bias when deploying crowd-control tactics. Meanwhile, police union leadership has slammed Wheeler, saying he has "failed to develop an understanding of even basic police work."

Those tensions go back a while, simmering privately even when the bureau and mayor appeared to be on the same page.

Cox, who has since left the mayor's office, was referring to a bloody October street brawl outside the bar Kelly's Olympian—an unusually violent clash even by Portland standards. In the texts, Cox appears deeply frustrated by the lack of arrests. Outlaw fired back at the political intrusion into her officers' decision making.

Outlaw now says her response was an "invitation to [Cox] to join us in the emergency operations center for the next demonstration so he could witness for himself how these events unfold."

The mayor is still frustrated by the lack of arrests at far-right rallies that devolve into brawls, which police and prosecutors have blamed on the questionable concept of "mutual combat".

"I have made my frustration on this eminently clear to all parties," Wheeler says. "If these are truly the rules and our hands are truly tied, then we need to change the rules and we need to untie our hands."

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.