(PORTLAND) — An investigation is underway into text messages that a police lieutenant exchanged with the leader of a right-wing group amid violent protests in Portland, Oregon.
Portions of the text messages, obtained by local newspaper The Willamette Week, show conversations between Portland Police Lt. Jeff Niiya and Joey Gibson, the leader of a group called Patriot Prayer.
The Willamette Week reported that some of the text messages, which were obtained through a public records request, shows Niiya warning Gibson that one of his associates who may have had a warrant out for his arrest should avoid doing “anything which may draw our attention.”
In others, Gibson acknowledges that the fact that he was running for Senate — a bid he ultimately lost — would likely draw more attention to the protests in 2018.
“I will be using Portland and Seattle protesters as a part of the campaign so it will impact you guys unfortunately, so I appologize [sic] now ahead of time,” Gibson reportedly wrote in one of the texts to Niiya.
Portland mayor Ted Wheeler described the text messages as “disturbing” and has called for a “thorough investigation of this matter.”
“It is imperative for law enforcement to remain objective and professional, and in my opinion, these text messages appear to cross several boundaries,” Wheeler said in a statement released Thursday.
For his part, Gibson believes the issue is being overblown and he believes the texts show he and Niiya simply being respectful of one another.
“I do this with police officers all over the country wherever I go, [I] just like to have some open communication,” Gibson said in a video he posted to Facebook on Thursday in response to the Willamette Weekly story.
“Now most of the police officers that I talk to are very respectful. That doesn’t mean they like me it doesnt mean that they back me, but they’re very professional and they want to basically do everything they can to de-escalate things whenever possible. It’s just common sense when you have potential violence that’s going to erupt … it’s very important to have open communication with the police so that we know what to expect from one another,” Gibson said in the Facebook video.”
Gibson added that Niiya “truly did not want violence.”
“That’s what I saw. He did not want conflict, he did not want groups clashing with one another,” he said.
The Portland Police Bureau shared a statement with ABC News confirming that the department “continues to look into the public records that have been released this week.”
“There is an on-going investigation and the Bureau cannot comment further on details involving personnel matters. While this investigation proceeds, direction has been given to Lieutenant Niiya to cease any further conversation with any event organizers. Additionally, Lieutenant Niiya is not participating in Rapid Response Team (RRT)-related activities until an investigation can be completed,” the Portland Police Bureau said in a statement.
Police chief Danielle Outlaw said in the statement that it is “imperative that we come together to hear people’s concerns and ideas.”
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