PORTLAND, Maine — City officials will retain an independent firm headed by a former police officer to investigate police conduct during the first few nights of racial justice protests in downtown Portland last summer.
Clifton Larson Allen LLP, a Minnesota-based accountancy firm, will review police response to the events of June 1, 2020, when hundreds convened outside the Portland Police Station to protest white supremacy and injustice at the hands of police after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans.
The Portland protest grew heated after the driver of a semi-tractor trailer truck drove slowly past protesters gathered outside the police station moments after organizers had called upon the group to disband. It sparked waves of confusion and confrontation, taking the form of a protracted staredown between late-night protesters, many of them late arrivers, and 15 state and local police departments called in to assist Portland.
After police arrested the truck’s driver — who had not been aware of the protest when he turned onto the street — they aggressively pushed protesters up Franklin Street to the intersection with Middle Street, where they formed a barricade and held until after 2 a.m.
Protesters gathered there chanting and shouting for hours as several hurled water bottles at police, who wore protective face guards and shields and responded by releasing pepper spray into the crowd. Twenty-three people were arrested at the protest, with charges later dropped by the district attorney against all but the truck driver.
The investigation will be headed by Frank Rudewicz, a lawyer who worked for the Hartford Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigations for 14 years. Rudewicz has been a compliance and ethics monitor in several firms and has 30 years of experience in fraud and forensic accounting investigations.
Members of the city council first requested an independent investigation of the protests days after the event. The hiring process for the investigation took longer than expected because the city was carefully reviewing applicants.
“It is of the utmost importance that the investigator we hire is experienced, fair, and unbiased, and we are diligently researching their record so that the public will trust the process and results,” Dena Libner, an aide to City Manager Jon Jennings, said in an email to a constituent last month.
City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said that “the goal of the investigation is to ensure the integrity of the department was maintained throughout its response to the protest.”
Racial justice rallies in Maine continued throughout the summer, peaking when more than 2,000 convened on June 5, 2020, for a citywide march led by Black P.O.W.E.R., a Black-led collective of Portland-based organizers and activist groups who had rallied under the Black Lives Matter umbrella.
Clifton Larson Allen LLP is soliciting feedback from the public as part of their info-gathering effort. The firm asks that the public contact Rudewicz at 617-221-1978, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm has also set up a “confidential email” address at PortlandPoliceInquiry@comcast.net.