Budworth faces one count of assault in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor that carries up to a one-year jail sentence. He has been placed on administrative leave, a police spokesman said.
The indictment in Multnomah County is one of few criminal cases filed against officers who used force during protests and riots sparked by the death of Floyd, who died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020. The racial justice and police accountability movement that intensified last year has given rise to widespread allegations of misconduct, but few officers have faced charges, and some of them were later cleared of wrongdoing.
The case also appears to be the first time a Portland police officer has been charged for striking or firing at someone during a protest, the Oregonian reported.
In a statement announcing the indictment Tuesday, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt (D) said Portland police overall had acted professionally as they responded to demonstrations in the city that at times turned violent. But there was “no legal justification” for Budworth’s actions, he said.
“When that line is crossed, and a police officer’s use of force is excessive and lacks a justification under the law, the integrity of our criminal justice system requires that we, as prosecutors, act as a mechanism for accountability,” Schmidt said. “Public trust requires nothing less.”
An attorney for Budworth didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday.
The Portland police union acknowledged that Budworth had used his baton to move the protester, but it said he didn’t intend to hit her in the head.
“The location of Officer Budworth’s last baton push was accidental, not criminal,” the union said in a statement Tuesday. “We stand by our officer, truth, and justice.”
Budworth was part of a “rapid response team” that was called to the Multnomah Building near downtown Portland the night of Aug. 18, 2020, to contain a demonstration that had spiraled out of control. Police officials declared a riot after someone broke windows and threw a molotov cocktail into the building. Officers were ordered to clear the area.
Video showed an officer in riot gear, identified at the time by the No. 37 printed in white on his helmet, shoving a protester in the back of the head with his baton and knocking her to the asphalt. While she is down, he uses both hands to slam the baton into the protester’s face, the footage shows.
The protester, Teri Jacobs, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in September, saying the officer’s actions fit a pattern of excessive force the police department used against protesters. She said in court papers that she was working as a photojournalist during the unrest and was trying to pull a friend to safety when the officer “bashed her in the face with his baton.”
“Ms. Jacobs posed no threat to the officer at any time, and she had not committed any crime nor was she being lawfully arrested or detained,” her lawsuit said. “An entire squad of Portland Police Officers witnessed this act, failed to intervene, and allowed this officer to walk away after committing a violent crime against Ms. Jacobs.”
In March, the city settled with Jacobs for $50,000 plus $11,000 in legal fees, court records show.
The police union disputed the version of events presented by Jacobs. In its statement Tuesday, the union said a crowd had reassembled near the county building the night of the unrest after being dispersed. Some in the crowd turned violent, according to the union, and a “confrontation then ensued.”
“Officer Budworth used baton pushes to move a rioter, now known to be Teri Jacobs, out of the area,” the union said. When she fell to the ground, the union said, “Officer Budworth employed one last baton push to try and keep her on the ground, which accidentally struck Ms. Jacobs in the head.” The officer “used the lowest level of baton force — a push; not a strike or a jab,” the union added.
Complaints of excessive police force seldom lead to prosecutions in the United States because officers in many jurisdictions have broad leeway when they perceive a threat.
Budworth’s indictment comes a week after three officers in Columbus, Ohio, were charged with misdemeanors in connection with the way they handled demonstrations for racial equality in the city last summer.
In Philadelphia, a police inspector was charged with assault last year after striking a protester with his baton. A judge dismissed the case in January, saying prosecutors had failed to provide evidence of a crime.
A similar chain of events played out in Buffalo, where prosecutors charged two officers with assault for shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground. A grand jury dismissed the charges in February.