A group of armed protesters breached the Oregon State Capitol building in Salem, Oregon, Monday morning while the 80th Legislative Assembly was in its third special session, according to the Oregon State Police (OSP).
“When free speech crosses over to physical threats to elected officials, law enforcement, and residents, the City will act to protect public safety,” said Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett in a press release. “Today’s use of force by individuals to stop the Legislature’s special session is appalling. I thank the Oregon State Police and Salem Police Department for their swift action. Our democratic process must be protected.”
At approximately 8:30 a.m., prior to the start of the special session, protesters gained entry into the State Capitol, which was closed to the general public due to COVID-19 restrictions. According to the OSP, someone had exited through a door on the northwest corner of the building, allowing several protesters to catch the door before it closed.
The Oregon Legislature was set to debate various issues related to COVID-19 and public health that day, with only police and government representatives allowed inside. The state had set up monitors outside of the building for citizens to watch the special session.
OSP troopers confronted the protesters in the vestibule by the breached door and asked them to exit the building. The protesters attempted to push through the police into the main area of the building, and an individual sprayed “some kind of chemical irritant (mace/OC/bear spray) into the vestibule.” Troopers then used “inert Pepper Balls […] essentially a paint ball filled with an inert powder” to contain the protesters. Salem Police Department officers assisted the troopers with containment. An unlawful assembly was declared at some point during the incident, KOIN News reported.
Law enforcement officers gave several warnings to exit the building or they would start arresting people for trespassing. Approximately two hours into the incident, an individual identified as Ryan Lyles, 41, sprayed another blast of chemical irritant and was arrested for being a “felon in possession of body armor,” “assaulting a police officer,” and “unlawful use of mace.” At some point, a protester activated a smoke-emitting device in the vestibule area.
Outside the Oregon State Capitol. It has been declared an unlawful assembly at roughly 9:20am. pic.twitter.com/X1En1XNT4J
— Brian Hayes (@_Brian_ICT) December 21, 2020
Lt. Treven Upkes, a Salem Police Department public information officer, said that while officers were containing protesters inside the building, SPD officers outside the building were pushing back several protesters in an attempt to prevent them from gaining entry. He said officers were attacked with mace and other projectiles while working to clear out the protesters.
Two people, identified as Ronald Vanvlack, 75, and Jerry Dyerson, 53, remained in the vestibule area after the orders to clear and were arrested and charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.
Around 1:30 p.m., protesters attempted to breach the Capitol again. The glass on an exterior door was shattered, and another protester, identified as Jeremiah Pruitt, 35, was arrested for criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. In addition, protesters began to approach the SPD command post outside of the building.
“Protesters approached our command post, and we had to form a line, and then negotiated them to get out of the street,” Upkes said.
Law enforcement eventually cleared out the protesters using verbal, physical, and less lethal means, and the streets were closed down around the building to prevent further unlawful assembly.
“Our thanks to the members of the public who heeded warnings to stay away from the area which permitted officers to effectively address the situation,” said SPD in a Facebook post. “We want the public to understand the community’s safety is important, and thus, the Salem Police Department is prepared to address similar activity at future protests by any group.”
All arrested individuals were transported to the Marion County Jail. SPD said in its Facebook post that it is expecting similar events to Monday’s incident to occur in the “near future.”
Despite the disruptions, KOIN News reported that the Legislature passed “$800 million in relief, cocktails to-go, rent relief for landlords, extension of the eviction moratorium and a bill limiting liability of schools for COVID claims.”