By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
The Deschutes County DA on Thursday announced formal charges against seven people involved in a political rally that turned violent earlier this month saying he “would never defend the use of unlawful violence against another person.”
And while not charged, Trump event organizer Nicholas Dieringer could have avoided the entire incident had he not made the “provocative, ill-advised” decision to move the meet-up spot to where a Black Lives Matter group was having a peaceful pot luck, Hummel said.
It was, Hummel said, “the precipitating act that resulted in October 3, 2020 being an awful day in Bend.”
“It’s important to note that the vast majority of participants in the Trump cruise surely did not know that Pilot Butte Park was the location of a social justice/Black Lives Matter event when Mr. Dieringer notified them of the change in venue,” Hummel said. “They were pawns in Dieringer’s plan to stoke unrest in our community.”
Hummel announced the charges during a news conference at the Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center in Redmond where he walked the media through his decisions and analyzed some of the cell phone video shot at the incident.
The 11-page decision comes following a two-week investigation into the incidents on October 3 and 4th. Hummel also released 200 pages of police reports following the incidents.
On October 20th, Bend Police requested charges be filed against 22 people involved in the two incidents – the political rally and a protest the next day outside the police station.
Hummel said Oct. 3rd started innocent enough with supporters of President Trump meeting at Drake Park before a caravan cruise through town while members of the Black Lives Matter movement gathered separately at Pilot Butte State Park.
But Dieringer made a last-minute venue change and sent Trump supporters to Pilot Butte, Hummel said.
Once the Trump supporters started arriving at the parking lot, it didn’t take long for tensions to rise between the two groups, thanks, in part, to “many drinking heavily in public,” and Trump supporters verbally insulting the BLM social event, Hummel said.
“The tension was at a fever pitch when 23-year old Garrett Gerdes grabbed a flag off of one of the trucks lined up for the cruise (the flag said: “Americans for Trump – Keep America Great.”),” Hummel said. “Trump supporters then ran towards Gerdes, who took off running and tossed the flag. Then things blew up: punches were thrown, pepper spray was deployed, and Tasers were used.
“After this initial melee, things started to calm down, until 42-year-old Jake Strayer pulled out his gun and pointed it at two peaceful people. A second melee then ensued. Police arrived, things began to calm down again, and the police began their investigation.”
Strayer was charged with unlawful use of a weapon, two counts of menacing and two counts of pointing a firearm at another.
Gerdes was charged with second-degree criminal mischief and third-degree theft.
Others facing charges:
- John Wells Jr., 38, Bend: harassment
- Michael Green, 44, Redmond: three counts of fourth-degree assault, second-degree disorderly conduct
- Nutusha Nicole Duran, 32, Bend: second-degree unlawful use of mace
- Adriana M. Aquarius, 21, Bend: harassment
- Stephanie VanKlootwyk, 50, Bend: harassment
As officers finished up their work and started to leave the park, Hummel said several people blocked their patrol cars from leaving, upset the officers didn’t arrest Strayer on the spot.
Officers eventually removed the people blocking their cars and left, but Hummel found no evidence officers used excessive force in doing so.
“I determined the manner in which the officers removed the protestors was appropriate, lawful and did not result in injuries to anyone,” he said.
In regards to Dieringer, Hummel told Central Oregon Daily News that he did consider filing charges against him, but ultimately determined no crime had been committed.
The next day, members of the Black Lives Movement rallied at the Bend Police Station calling for more action against the aggressors and questioning the inaction of officers at Pilot Butte State Park.
During the protest, several people stood in a crosswalk on Highway 20 blocking traffic for more than two minutes, Hummel said.
Police requested charges against seven people at the rally for disorderly conduct, but Hummel declined to charge anyone involved in the protest.
“I charged both supporters of President Trump and supporters of black lives, with crimes of violence, because the evidence showed they committed violence,” Hummel said. “I declined to charge other supporters of black lives and other supporters of President Trump with crimes of violence because the evidence showed they acted in lawful self-defense.
“I declined to charge people who were engaged in passive resistance in furtherance of their right to peacefully assemble. And I charged people who used force against the police.”
While watching some of the cell phone video provided as evidence, Hummel said he did see some interactions between the public and police that “were concerning.”
“Specifically, numerous Bend Police Officers declined to denounce white supremacy when asked to do so,” Hummel said, acknowledging the officers were being “yelled at, denigrated, told their profession is evil and generally being disrespected berate.”
“All of this is difficult, challenging, and results in me understanding why officers at times find it difficult to denounce white supremacy when asked to do so by those shouting at them,” he said.
“This having been said, the Bend Police Officers I know are not white supremacists, and in fact care about the dignity and integrity of all residents and visitors to Bend,” he said. “I encourage them to convey to the public their stance against white supremacy and to redouble their efforts to show by their actions, their commitment to making Bend as welcoming and inclusive as possible.”
Another area of concern, Hummel said, is the police reports seemed to focus social media surveillance on Black Lives Matter accounts and no documentation of social media chatter from supporters of President Trump.
“That did cause me to wonder whether police are looking at social media on just one side,” he said. “Violence is committed on both sides, but also of late, more violence is being committed by right-wing extremists than people on the left so it makes our community not as safe as possible if we’re only looking at people on the left and not on the right.”