Walla Walla Police Chief Scott Bieber on Wednesday is to report to City Council on his department’s policing activities during the recent “Where’s Cathy?” political rally.
The Feb. 24 downtown rally – held by local members of the activist group Indivisible to demand U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers hold a town hall that week while Congress was in recess – has since become a community focal point dealing with free speech, disorderly conduct and what role police should have taken after the event turned into a raucous downtown confrontation.
The controversy centers around 30 minutes of counterprotesting in front of the Walla Walla County Courthouse and at Heritage Square Park, much of it by several members of two motorcycle clubs who revved their engines in an attempt to drown out speakers.
In the days that followed the rally, city official received numerous complaints from people asking why police allowed the bikers to continue to disrupt the rally and why no visible show of police force was on hand, even after numerous calls were made to emergency dispatchers.
The Council then asked for a full report from Bieber. He is to present it at 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 15 N. Third Ave.
Also at the March 8 meeting, City Attorney Tim Donaldson gave his opinion, stating that while counterprotests are protected by free speech, disorderly conduct is not. He added the bikers could not purposely disrupt a legal event, be it a rally, protest or parade.
Earlier this month Bieber told the Union-Bulletin the situation could have been handled differently but he’d “rather err on the side of allowing expression rather than suppressing it.”
“Based on (Donaldson’s) analysis, it appears we could have done something different,” Bieber added. “How aggressive we would have (been) that is still a question. But going forward it’s a tool we can use now.”
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