By TED TAYLOR, BROOKE SNAVELY and HEATHER ROBERTS
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Federal agents detained two men in Bend early Wednesday, but protesters were alerted to the situation and arrived to block the ICE buses from leaving the area, sparking an hours-long rally for immigrant rights.
The peaceful protest came to a head though just after 11 p.m. when armed U.S. Border Patrol agents in tactical gear arrived on the scene and stormed the buses to allegedly remove a driver with a medical issue.
Instead, pushing protesters out of the way, they went in and retrieved the two men and four others on the bus.
Several scuffles ensued between agents and protesters; a few were hit with pepper spray.
A raucous ending to a bizarre, but peaceful day.
After news about the arrests circulated on social media around 1 p.m., more than 250 people gathered around the buses outside a hotel near the Box Factory holding signs and chanting while Bend Police officers looked on from a distance.
A family friend told Central Oregon Daily News the two men were picked up on their way to work around 7 a.m. and couldn’t call their families until noon.
It remained unconfirmed Wednesday night who the men were or what they were detained for.
By 9:45 p.m., one of the protesters said it was transitioning from a rally to a vigil for the men and folks were settling in for what they expected to be a long night.
At 10 p.m. Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz arrived on the scene and spoke through a megaphone to tell the crowd more federal agents were on the way to ensure the safety of their employees.
He did not elaborate but said Bend Police had an obligation to stand back.
Mayor Sally Russell joined Krantz at the scene but did not speak. Both were peppered with insults as they walked away surrounded by officers.
Krantz’s warning did little to thin the crowd.
Word spread around 10:45 that federal agents were mobilizing at the National Guard Armory on Simpson Avenue as some of the protest organizers prepared the group for what was likely to happen.
As promised, the uniformed border patrol agents arrived, walking in formation dressed in riot gear as chants of “let them go” echoed off the buildings.
An agent shouted warnings to the crowd through a megaphone, asking them to disperse before non-lethal tactics would be used.
No one budged.
Several agents then made their way to the door of one of the buses to retrieve someone inside and an agent could be seen carrying someone on his shoulders away from the scene.
In all, it’s believed six people were rushed from inside the buses amid the commotion.
The chaotic scene quickly calmed down after the agents left the area.
By 11:30, the crowd started to disperse realizing the men were no longer on the bus.
Thursday morning, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement.
“The law enforcement activity in Bend, Oregon is part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s mission to arrest criminal aliens presenting a danger to public safety and take them off the street,” said Tanya Roman a spokeswoman with Homeland Security Investigations . “The two individuals arrested each had a history of criminal violent behavior.
“While ICE respects the rights of people to voice their opinion peacefully, that does not include illegally interfering with their federal law enforcement duties. ICE will take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of its officers and detainees, and will vigorously pursue prosecution against anyone who puts them in harm’s way.”
Earlier in the night, a protester was able to talk to at least one detainee through the walls of the bus.
“He will never forget your support because we are all the same and have the same rights,” he passed along to the crowd.
Erin Carter, a local immigration attorney on the scene told Central Oregon Daily the Portland-based nonprofit Innovation Law Lab has asked a federal court to keep ICE from taking the men out of Central Oregon.
She said the men have lived in Central Oregon for over a decade.
City of Bend Communications Director Anne Aurand confirmed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were at the scene.
Russell told Central Oregon Daily “I’ve been told the two men they’re trying to find are criminals and have warrants out for their arrests.”
Facebook posts were making the rounds earlier in the day urging Central Oregon’s Latino community to stay indoors because immigration was making the rounds.
“I’ve been told this is not a sweep,” Russell said, adding that Bend Police were only on the scene because the crowd was volatile.
“The city does not use funds or equipment to enforce federal immigration laws or to detain people on immigration status,” she said.
Krantz reiterated that point in a video press conference Wednesday evening.
He said Bend PD had been notified that ICE was in the city conducting an investigation, but were unaware of any details and police were not part of any operation.
Officers were on scene to ensure public safety and allow the group to peacefully protest, he said.
“We hope for a completely peaceful resolution and to allow for our community to have their First Amendment rights safely expressed,” he said.
He also acknowledged the optics of some Bend SWAT team members arriving early on the scene dressed in fatigues.
Krantz said the officers were in training at the time and responded to the scene because patrol officers weren’t available. Once they assessed the situation, those officers were replaced.
“That could have caused some fear and response from community members and it was very important for us to replace those officers with regular patrol officers,” he said.
The crowd continued to grow throughout the day and included some faith leaders, including Morgan Schmidt from Bend’s First Presbyterian Church, members of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers group, and others.
They ate pizza as folks passed around water while the protest moved past the dinner hour. Sandwiches and water were shared with drivers of the buses as well.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel arrived and was stopped multiple times by protesters asking questions, but he had few answers related to the incident.
In a Facebook post, the mayor asked everyone to “please leave peacefully.”
Krantz said the property owners had asked the protestors to leave the area, but police are not ready to take any action to remove anyone.
“There may be a low-level criminal action occurring but at some point, we have to balance that appropriately and balance towards the rights of our community,” he said.
The presence of Bend Police officers dwindled as the event grew larger with just a few officers seen in the area around 5:30.