That time Ted Wheeler pepper-sprayed one of his critics in the eyes

This bizarre tale took place on Sunday, though it’s only now beginning to make the rounds in the mainstream media. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was out at a local craft brewery having dinner with former Portland mayor Sam Adams. The two were eating and drinking without masks when a pedestrian noticed their activity and took issue with it. When the men finished up and walked outside, the pedestrian verbally accosted them for their actions. After a brief argument, Wheeler pulled out a can of pepper-spray and shot the man in the eyes, temporarily blinding him. Adams recorded the audio of the encounter and subsequently turned it over to the police for an investigation. (Washington Post)

On Sunday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was walking outside a craft brewery on the Oregon city’s southwest side when a man walked up to him and shouted, “Thanks for ruining the city!”

Moments later, the Democratic mayor blasted the man in the eyes with pepper spray.

“Oh my God!” the man cried in an audio recording of the encounter published by the Willamette Week. “Wow… I can’t see. The mayor has just thrown something at me.”

The man who was pepper-sprayed appeared to be recording video of the encounter with his phone, but I haven’t seen that showing up online yet. The audio recording was obtained by the Willamette Week and you can listen to it here.

It’s tough to say who has the better case here even if any charges wind up being filed. First of all, under the recently relaxed pandemic orders in Portland, indoor dining is allowable now and people can remove their face masks while eating and drinking, so the pedestrian’s criticism of Wheeler and Adams wasn’t really supported in terms of the current rules. Of course, accusing the Mayor of “ruining the city” is probably a far more fair critique.

The real issue for the police to investigate will involve what happened during the confrontation outside. Anyone is within their rights to pull out their phone and film a public official walking on the sidewalk. You’re also free to verbally criticize them, as liberals so often remind us when mobs try to hound Trump administration officials and supporters out of public spaces. The problem for the pedestrian is that he was getting up in Wheeler’s face, allegedly only one foot away. That does violate the social distancing mandates.

But even if that’s the case, was it allowable for Wheeler to shoot pepper-spray into the guy’s eyes when the pedestrian hadn’t initiated any physical contact? Technically, Wheeler could have placed the man under arrest. (Perhaps surprisingly to some of us, mayors are allowed to make arrests in most cities, though the power is rarely employed.) But Ted Wheeler didn’t do that. He just sprayed the guy in the eyes and then threw a water bottle at him before departing with Adams.

According to Adams, the water bottle was thrown so the guy would be able to rinse his eyes out. But a person who was just blinded by pepper-spraying probably isn’t going to be able to see well enough to catch it. So the water bottle could constitute another very minor instance of assault.

This whole thing was handled very badly by Ted Wheeler and he should be embarrassed over it. The pedestrian was clearly being rude and wasn’t a fan of Wheeler’s, but that’s life in the political lane for you. When he came uncomfortably close to Wheeler’s personal space without having a mask on, Wheeler should have reminded him about the face mask rules, turned around and got into his car. Unless he can make a convincing case that the man was physically threatening him with violence, I would wager that the pepper-spray attack will be seen as an unjustifiable use of force.