COOS BAY — A private investigator told the Coos Bay City Council Tuesday night that allegations of misconduct by police officers at an August protest were unfounded, and that any misconduct that may have occurred would have been justified.
The investigation sprang from an Aug. 8 Black Lives Matter protest near the Coos Bay Boardwalk in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. The allegations of police misconduct during the conflict between demonstrators and armed counterprotesters were twofold: First, that a police officer pushed a pregnant woman to the ground and, second, that several police officers on duty had used "white power" hand signs during the protest.
Michael Hudgins, a private investigator based in Salem, said his review of videos and eyewitness testimony led him to believe that the woman had been pushed on accident, or justifiably, and that he didn't see evidence of police using the hand signs at the protests.
City Manager Rodger Craddock contracted Local Government Personnel Servies, a division of the Lane Council of Governments, to investigate the allegations. LGPS ultimately contracted Hudgins, a former police officer and detective for the City of Albany and a state corrections officer.
"I think it was more of public image, and the fact is there have been a lot of videos that have seemed to heighten racial tensions," Craddock said. "When I contracted with the LCOG, I was very specific that I was not looking for a directed outcome."
Craddock said that while the investigation wasn't legally required, he launched it anyway to verify or refute the allegations that had sparked on social media and to forward any criminal misconduct to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
Those allegations sprung from a TikTok video posted after the protest, which shows the crowd at the protest engaging with counterprotesters and a pregnant woman walking away from the crowd.
"She had just gotten shoved down by Coos Bay police officers," the voiceover says in the video, though the video doesn't show the precise moment of that incident.
Several protest organizers who shared the allegations, including the person who posted the TikTok, didn't respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning in time for publication. Some online said that the investigation was faulty because of Hudgins' career as a police officer.
Hudgins told councilors Tuesday that he received information from 29 emails and interviewed six citizens and six police officers to come to his conclusions.
One of the witnesses Hudgins interviewed was the pregnant woman who was allegedly pushed, he said. In that interview, she told Hudgins that she thought "it could have been an accident" that she was pushed, though she assumed the officer knew she was pregnant because they'd spoken previously.
The officers were engaging with the woman and other protesters and counterprotesters to prevent violence between the two, Hudgins said.
"Their goal is to just separate," Hudgins said. "From what I investigated, that's all they were doing."
A second allegation in the TikTok video said that the same officer who allegedly pushed the woman was one of four who flashed a "white power" hand sign — the commonly used "OK" hand sign which is used in some circles to indicate the initials "W-P," for "white power" — to counterprotesters during the day.
"There's no credible evidence to suggest or indicate that this allegation is true," Hudgins said.
As evidence, Hudgins showed the council a video taken by someone livestreaming the event, in which the person taking the video asks several police officers if they'd use the symbol in question. The officers said they didn't, and gave their names to the person recording when asked.
Several councilors peppered Hudgins with questions about his investigation, largely around possible objections to the investigation's credibility — including Hodgins' two decades as a police officer. Near the end of his time as an officer, Hudgins was acquitted of misconduct allegations and awarded $1.4 million in a subsequent lawsuit against the department.
"The only thing I have in this lifetime is my word, and my integrity," Hudgins told the council.
Hudgins said he's still preparing the formal report with his findings, but wanted to present an executive summary Tuesday because of the content and severity of the allegations.
"I didn't feel like this could wait for three more weeks to get on the agenda for (the October council meeting)," Hudgins said.