PORTLAND – Portland police on Monday defended their use of batons to shove Occupy Portland protesters from a camp they had held for weeks, and also revealed that bottles and an open pocketknife had been thrown at police officers during a confrontation hours before the camp was taken down.
Riot police moved into the camp shortly after noon on Sunday, using batons to shove a cluster of protesters out of the camp and dragging out those who resisted, including some who were holed up in a makeshift fort made of plywood, pallets, shopping carts and other debris.
A total of 51 protesters were arrested during the Sunday afternoon action. It came several hours after thousands of people had filled an adjacent street during the night to try to hinder police carrying out Mayor Sam Adams’ warning that protesters had to leave the camp by midnight Saturday.
There wasn’t much left of the camp when riot police entered it. Many protesters and the homeless people who lived there since Oct. 6 had moved out. Most of the tents had been taken down.
At least one demonstrator, Justin Bridges, was hospitalized after being dragged away by police. Demonstrators took to Twitter to accuse police of using excessive force when they dragged Bridges from the front lines, saying authorities aggravated a prior back injury. Police said Bridges fell and officers pulled him out of harm’s way and had no way of knowing his medical history.
Assistant Portland Police Chief Larry O’Dea said officers needed to use their batons to clear the park.
“When it came to a deliberate push through the park, the baton is what you use,” he said at a news conference.
One video circulating on Twitter shows an officer raising his baton above his head and thrusting it down; officials said he was slapping the arm of a demonstrator who grabbed another officer’s nightstick.
Mayor Sam Adams and Police Chief Mike Reese, who also were at the news conference, said they had carefully crafted a strategy for getting protesters to relinquish two adjacent parks where they had set up their camp. O’Dea also said he talked with police chiefs in other cities with Occupy camps for ideas on how to avoid confrontations in accomplishing the task.
Adams said the strategy chosen was to resort to patience, rather than tear gas.
“It was an incredibly difficult situation that took an amazing amount of patience and long hours to get the job done,” Adams said.
Still, there were numerous tense moments during two days of confrontations that led up to police taking the camp on Sunday.
After the camp was secured by police on Sunday, throngs of people showed up to show their support for Occupy Portland.