For the first time in Portland history, a Multnomah County grand jury has indicted a police officer for alleged excessive use of force during a protest.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday announced the indictment of Portland Police Officer Corey Budworth on one count of fourth-degree assault for “unlawfully caus[ing] physical injury to another person” during an Aug. 18, 2020, protest.
At the time of the incident, which occurred near the Buckman neighborhood, Budworth was assigned to the Portland Police Bureau’s Rapid Response Team, according to the DA’s office.
The DA’s office says it learned the identity of the complainant—a photojournalist named Teri Jacobs—after she filed a lawsuit in federal court last September against the officer, who was described in the federal complaint as “Officer 37″ for the number on the back of his helmet.
The lawsuit alleges Jacobs was attending that evening’s protest in her capacity as a professional journalist and that she was wearing her press pass. Following police orders, the complaint says, Jacobs was dispersing with the crowd when she tried to pull her friend—who had been pushed down—off of the street and onto the sidewalk. At that point, the lawsuit alleges, “Officers flanked her.”
An officer then “swung his truncheon like a baseball bat at Ms. Jacobs, striking her several times,” the complaint alleges. As Jacobs attempted to move to the sidewalk, according to the complaint, Officer 37 chased her across the street. With her back to the officer and her hands in the air, the complaint says, the officer hit her with his baton in the back, neck and back of the head until she fell on the pavement, landing on her hands and knees.
“Officer 37 loomed over her, waiting for Ms. Jacobs to recover from being knocked down from behind and look up,” the complaint says. “As Ms. Jacobs was knocked to the ground, she was terrified that the officer was going continue to attack her, and she feared that she might never get up again if he continued with his violent attack. When Ms. Jacobs looked up to see if another blow would come, Officer 37 bashed Ms. Jacobs in the face with his truncheon.”
District Attorney Mike Schmidt said his office issued the assault charge, which is a class A misdemeanor under Oregon law, because “no legal justification existed for Officer Budworth’s deployment of force, and…the deployment of force was legally excessive under the circumstances.”
“I further want to thank the many members of the Portland Police Bureau who have showed up night after night in response to civil demonstrations that have at times turned violent,” Schmidt said. “But when that line is crossed, and a police officer’s use of force is excessive and lacks a justification under the law, the integrity of our criminal justice system requires that we, as prosecutors, act as a mechanism for accountability.”
Juan Chavez, a Portland civil rights attorney representing Jacobs, said in a statement Tuesday that his client was “brutally beaten in the head, neck, back and face” by Budworth, and that nearby officers did not intervene.
“One indictment, while undoubtedly significant and a wakeup call to Portland police officers, will not fix problems with policing in our city,” Chavez said. “The criminal legal system may hold Budworth responsible for his unlawful conduct and punish him for it, but it will not bring about the wholesale changes we need to culture, policy and practice. Portland’s elected leaders and the leadership of the Portland Police Bureau are responsible for making those changes and should be accountable for that.”
The Portland Police Association decried Tuesday’s indictment, which it described as a “politically driven charging decision.” The union also described Budworth as a six-year veteran of the Police Bureau, four of which he’s spent as a member of the RRT.
“It is also important to know that Officer Corey Budworth is a committed public servant of the highest integrity,” the PPA said Tuesday. “In his service with RRT and his deployment at hundreds of protests and demonstrations, Officer Budworth has never faced any sustained force complaints. Unfortunately, this decorated public servant has been caught in the crossfire of agenda-driven city leaders and a politicized criminal justice system.”
The union further alleged in its statement that Budworth was “forcefully knocked to the ground” during a skirmish between riot cops and protesters, and that he was acting in accordance with his training by wielding his baton “in response to the active aggression.”
“As Officer Budworth cleared Ms. Jacobs from the area to stop her criminal activity, Ms. Jacobs fell to the ground,” the PPA wrote. “Reasonably believing that she was getting back up to reengage in her unlawful activities, Officer Budworth employed one last baton push to try and keep her on the ground, which accidentally struck Ms. Jacobs in the head. The location of Officer Budworth’s last baton push was accidental, not criminal. He faced a violent and chaotic, rapidly evolving situation, and he used the lowest level of baton force—a push, not a strike or a jab—to remove Ms. Jacobs from the area.”
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell asked the community for patience as the bureau follows its “established internal accountability process.”
“Law enforcement is held to a higher standard and must constantly strive to live up to that standard. PPB has processes of accountability in place that take time to complete,” Lovell said in a statement June 15. “As chief, I have a role to play in the Police Bureau’s internal process associated with this case and, therefore, I cannot provide additional details.”