Mayor Wheeler Pressures Commissioner Hardesty to Provide Evidence for Her Retracted Claim That Portland Police Set Fires at Protests

Wheeler added that the Portland Police Bureau must now open an investigation into Hardesty's claims.

Mayor Ted Wheeler visits protests in downtown Portland. (Wesley Lapointe)

In a letter sent to City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty late Thursday afternoon, Mayor Ted Wheeler chided her for incendiary claims she made yesterday that Portland police embedded themselves among protesters and set fire to public property, effectively framing protesters for arson.

Hardesty walked back her claims Wednesday night, and issued a further apology during a press conference Thursday.

"When I'm wrong, I'll say I am wrong," Hardesty told reporters July 23, adding that she was sorry for "the stupid words I said yesterday."

After not speaking to Hardesty since July 18, Wheeler broke his silence Thursday. In his letter, he called Hardesty's accusation "shocking" and said it had forced the Portland Police Bureau to open an investigation into the claims she made.

He called on Hardesty, as the city's fire commissioner, to start an investigation if she knew of city employees engaged in arson, and to "come forward with any evidence you have of criminal behavior by city employees so that it can be investigated."

The letter is the latest in a series of tense exchanges between the two commissioners. Last week, Hardesty called on Wheeler to delegate her as police commissioner, because she didn't feel he was managing the bureau successfully. Wheeler indirectly denied Hardesty's request in an unrelated announcement Monday in which he co-signed a letter with five other U.S. mayors condemning federal troops occupying their cities.

The vehemence of Wheeler's letter is striking, given that Hardesty endorsed him for reelection in November and had been, until this past week, the mayor's closest ally on the City Council. It is also a reflection of the seriousness of the allegations Hardesty made—and hastily disavowed.

Read Wheeler's full statement below:

Yesterday you made serious accusations, reported in the media, that City employees have engaged in arson "so that they have justification for attacking community members." That accusation is shocking. The article you are quoted in notes that there is no evidence to support the claim.

You released a later statement addressing the quote but I am not clear whether you were withdrawing your claim.

Absent that clarity, as Mayor and as Police Commissioner, it is my obligation to respond.

I expect that if you, as Fire Commissioner, have knowledge that City employees had engaged in arson, you will direct that an investigation be opened. Please confirm that this is the case.

Additionally, as elected leaders of the City of Portland, we have a moral and ethical obligation to uphold the law. These obligations require you to come forward with any evidence you have of criminal behavior by City employees so that it can be investigated. I have copied City Attorney Tracy Reeve and Bureau of Human Resources Director Cathy Bless so that they can provide you with additional guidance.

Additionally, as they are required to do, the Police Bureau has begun the internal work to open an investigation into the crimes you allege. They have also reached out to State agencies to discuss the most appropriate way to proceed in this circumstance, especially given that State staff may also be implicated by your claim. Should they proceed, those processes will necessarily include you.

At this volatile moment, when the federal government is literally occupying our city and putting our residents at risk, our community expects and deserves that its leaders will work together.

Thank you.


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