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Portland mayor pepper-sprayed man who confronted him about Covid-19 rules

The maskless man followed Mayor Ted Wheeler from a pub to his car and got close enough that the mayor said he was concerned for his safety, according to a police report.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler during a news conference on Aug. 30, 2020.Sean Meagher / The Oregonian via AP

The mayor of Portland, Oregon, pepper-sprayed a man outside of a restaurant Sunday night, after the mayor said the man confronted him about mask rules and other issues and then got uncomfortably close, according to a police report.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, told police of the man: "I clearly informed him that he needed to back off," before spraying him in the eyes, according to an incident report released by police.

Wheeler told police he was leaving a pub at around 8 p.m. when the man, filming him with a phone, accused the mayor of not wearing a mask while sitting in a restaurant as required by Covid-19 rules, and also other issues.

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Wheeler said he told the man he was sitting in a tented area, and that the coronavirus rules allow someone to take off their mask when eating or drinking, according to the police report.

The man, who was not wearing a mask, followed Wheeler to his car and "got within a foot or two of my face while he was videoing me," the report quoted Wheeler as saying.

"I became imminently concerned for my personal safety, as I had recently been physically accosted in a similar situation," the mayor said according to the report. Wheeler also said he was afraid of catching Covid-19.

A spokesman for the mayor said Wheeler is fully cooperating with police. He was with former Portland Mayor Sam Adams at the time, who is listed in the report as a witness.

"Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler filed a police report relating to an incident that occurred. The Mayor is cooperating with the police investigation and encourages others involved to do the same," Wheeler's director of communications Jim Middaugh said in a statement.

The man who was pepper-sprayed has not been identified, according to the police report, and Wheeler said he did not recognize him. The man was described as a middle-aged white man.

Portland has been roiled by protests last year, and some called for Wheeler's resignation over his handling of the demonstrations which have at times involved violent confrontations.

Wheeler won re-election in November. He beat challenger Sarah Iannarone 46.07% to 40.76%, according to election records. There were also write-in candidates.

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Earlier this month, the mayor said he was out to dinner with a friend when a group yelled obscenities at him, and then the group entered the tented area and someone started "swatting" at him, NBC affiliate KGW reported.

The man who Wheeler pepper-spayed Sunday seemed surprised, the mayor told police according to the incident report.

"He made a comment like 'I can't believe you just pepper sprayed me,'" Wheeler is quoted in the report as telling police.

Wheeler said he threw a bottle of water to the man as he was leaving so he could wash his eyes, and then left and contacted his chief of staff. A city official contacted police, and Wheeler called police and gave statements over the phone and in email, according to the report.