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Portland mayor pepper-sprays man after an argument over face masks

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / JULY 22
                                Mayor Ted Wheeler speaks to people gathered in downtown Portland, Ore.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / JULY 22

    Mayor Ted Wheeler speaks to people gathered in downtown Portland, Ore.

Ted Wheeler, the mayor of Portland, Oregon, used pepper spray on a man who berated him for not wearing a mask at a restaurant and then followed him to his car Sunday night, according to a police report.

“I became imminently concerned for my personal safety,” Wheeler told the police of the confrontation.

The report said that the man, who has not been identified, approached Wheeler at 8 p.m. as he was leaving the McMenamins Hillsdale Brewery & Public House, where the mayor had finished dining with a former mayor, Sam Adams.

The man, whom Wheeler described as a “middle-aged white male,” appeared to be recording the mayor with his cellphone, the report said.

Wheeler said the man told him he had been “photographing” him while he was eating inside a tented area of the restaurant.

“He accused me of sitting in a restaurant without a mask,” Wheeler said. “I informed him the current COVID regulations allow people to take their mask off for the purpose of eating and drinking.”

As Wheeler walked to his car, the man followed him and kept recording, according to the report.

“He came closer,” Wheeler said. “He had no face mask on and got within a foot or two of my face while he was videoing me.”

Wheeler, who is 58, said he was especially concerned because he recently had been “accosted in a similar situation.”

The mayor did not specify what situation he was describing. On Jan. 6, a small group of protesters yelled and cursed at Wheeler as he dined at another restaurant in the city.

In the police report, Wheeler said he was concerned about “contracting COVID” from the man who confronted him Sunday night, “given that he was right in my face” and not wearing a mask.

The mayor said he told the man to “back off” and warned him that he had pepper spray and was prepared to use it.

The man stayed close, according to Wheeler, who said he pulled out the pepper spray and sprayed it in his eyes.

“He made a comment like, ‘I can’t believe you just pepper sprayed me,’” Wheeler told the police. The man walked away.

Wheeler said that before he left, he threw a bottle of water toward the man so he could wash out his eyes.

The police said they learned of the encounter at 9 p.m. Sunday, when Robert King, the mayor’s senior policy adviser on public safety, called the department to report the incident.

King told the police to call the mayor so he could provide them a statement.

Adams, the former mayor who had been dining with Wheeler, told the police that the man who approached Wheeler was in his mid-to-late 40s, about 5-foot-4, and was wearing glasses and dark clothing.

The man’s identity was not known as of Monday, when the report was filed. The Portland police did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The mayor’s office, which provided the police report, did not respond to requests for additional comment.

Wheeler, a Democrat, won reelection last November despite criticism for his handling of the city’s homeless crisis and the growing tensions in the city, where there have been months of demonstrations over racial injustice, economic inequality, federal law enforcement and corporate power. Those demonstrations have been met with a militarized federal response that only inflamed the anger of protesters.

Last July, Wheeler joined protesters who marched to the federal courthouse to demonstrate against that response, when they were hit with tear gas by federal agents.

“I’m not going to lie — it stings; it’s hard to breathe,” Wheeler said at the time. “And I can tell you with 100% honesty, I saw nothing which provoked this response.”

Wheeler, who also serves as police commissioner and has been criticized for the Portland Police Department’s own use of tear gas against demonstrators, also became a target during the July demonstration.

Some protesters threw objects in his direction and others called for his resignation, chanting, “Tear Gas Teddy.”

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