(Update: New OSP statement on protesters' use of chemical agent)
At least 2 arrests; 'Open up!' group chants
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Police declared an unlawful assembly at Oregon’s Capitol building Monday morning as protesters gathered and some attempted to force their way in during the third special legislative session of the year.
Lawmakers are at the Capitol to consider measures that would provide $800 million in relief to people struggling from the COVID-19 pandemic and this summer’s massive wildfires.
“Open up!” the group chanted, which could well have two meanings – one, to open the Capitol, closed for the one-day session due to COVID-19 health restrictions, but also calling on the state to let businesses reopen and end the restrictions under Gov. Kate Brown’s executive orders, aimed at curbing the spread of of COVID-19.
Several protesters in the crowd held President Trump campaign signs, while others openly carried weapons, KPTV reported.
Salem police urged motorists to avoid streets in the area of the Capitol, which they said in a tweet would be “closed as needed.”
The Statesman Journal reported that a smaller group of protesters were successful in entering a portion of the Capitol building, while protesters outside banged their fists against the doors chanting, “Let us in.” At least two people were arrested.
Oregon State Police and Salem police "were able to get everyone out of the building," troopers said later. Two who refused to leave the building were taken into custody.
OSP later said its troopers "were sprayed with some kind of chemical agent on two different occasions" by the intruders. At least one protester did so, and is still outstanding.
Troopers said they used "inert pepper ball while dealing with these protesters" but did not deploy any CS (tear) gas.
Around 10:30 a.m., two hours after protesters entered the building, a 41-year-old man used bear spray against police and was taken into custody, facing charges including trespassing and assaulting a police officer.
The Capitol incidents continued into the afternoon. OSP said someone who tried to break into the Capitol on the west side around 1:30 p.m. by breaking a window on a door also was taken into custody.
"The Oregon State Police encourage people to exercise their First Amendment rights, but it must be lawfully," troopers said in a statement. " Please, discontinue the acts of vandalism or destruction of property. If you commit a crime, you will be subject to arrest."
The Capitol is closed to the public during the special session as part of a COVID-19 safety measure. However virtual testimony about the proposed bills that are expected to be discussed by lawmakers Monday was allowed during Thursday and Saturday hearings,.
There were tense moments inside and outside the Capitol.
On the Senate floor Monday morning, Republican Sen. Dallas Heard stood before his colleagues, accusing Democrats and Senate President Peter Courtney of joining Gov. Kate Brown’s “campaign against the people and the children of God.”
The senator from Roseburg called the special session “illegitimate,” as the public is not allowed inside and described it as an “unchecked assault” against people and their freedom.
Heard ended his brief statement by saying he would stand at he microphone without a mask for 30 seconds as he ripped off his surgical-style mask.
“Your time is up,” Courtney said seconds later as he banged the gavel.
“No, it it is not, Mr. President,” Heard said raising his voice. A quick back and forth ensued before Heard’s microphone was shut off and he stormed out of the chamber.
The bills expected to be taken up Monday during the one-day special legislative session include a proposed eviction moratorium that includes $200 million in relief for landlords and tenants, a restaurant relief package that includes a provision legalizing cocktails to-go, a bill that would protect schools from some coronavirus-related lawsuits and a measure that would transfer $600 million in to the state’s emergency fund for COVID-19 and wildfire response and recovery.