FILE - Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Protest

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler speaking to a crowd of protesters in downtown Portland on July 22.

(The Center Square) — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was caught in the ongoing clashes between Portland protesters and U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents on Wednesday night.

Wheeler, who has faced criticism over his handling of months-long protests against police brutality, spoke in-person to protesters outside the federal Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse for the first time since protests began in May after the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police.

Protesters can be seen and heard booing Wheeler and calling on him to resign in videos posted to social media. Wheeler was then hit by tear gas deployed onto protesters gathered around the courthouse.

Tear gas has been used unannounced by the Portland Police Bureau on protesters numerous times this year under Wheeler's oversight despite public outcry and state legislation requiring clear justification by local law enforcement.

Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran has also posted photos to social media of being similarly hit by tear gas over last weekend. 

The Portland City Council barred local police from sharing information with federal agents or aiding them in crowd control. The council also barred police from using force against journalists and legal observers.

Federal law enforcement’s presence in the city has been condemned by virtually every Oregon Democrat at local, state, and federal levels, including Wheeler and Gov. Kate Brown.

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and other Trump administration officials claim the inability of local authorities’ to protect the city’s federal courthouse justifies federal agents’ presence.

The federal government faces lawsuits filed by the Oregon Attorney General and local activist groups for alleged instances of excessive force, violations of First Amendment rights, and unlawful arrests using unmarked vehicles.

Federal agents have been accused of shooting protester Donovan Labella in the head with impact munitions in July. They are also accused of consistently using tear gas on protesters without provocation.

Numerous journalists, including New York Times reporter Mike Baker, allege federal officers assaulted them while reporting on the ground.

As reported by The Oregonian, an attorney participating in the “Wall of Moms” protest on Tuesday alleges she was not read her rights while under arrest by federal agents.

President Donald Trump announced earlier this week that more federal officers will be deployed to major American cities from Chicago to Kansas City as part of “Operation LeGend.”

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty demanded Wheeler hand control of the Portland police over to her last week in response to the mayor’s handling of the protests.

Hardesty also made unsubstantiated claims earlier this week that local police officers had set fires in the area, which she later apologized for.

Hardesty introduced a proposal earlier this month to create an independent civilian police oversight board to review police misconduct complaints and police a review of PPB’s use of force policy, among other overhauls of the city’s policing policies.

The Portland city council will vote on referring the ballot measure to voters on Wednesday.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.