BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Hundreds of protesters surrounded two unmarked white buses at the Crane Shed Commons parking lot for nearly 12 hours Wednesday, until U.S. Border Patrol agents used pepper spray to move in and remove two detainees and some officers from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement buses.
As roughly two dozen federal agents assembled at the nearby National Guard Armory late Wednesday night, new Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz warned the growing crowd by bullhorn the agents were on their way to protect their workers.
The arrival of the Border Patrol agents in tactical gear at the protest scene, moving in formation, brought cries of "Feds go home!" and other jeers. An agency has said over a bullhorn that someone on a bus had a life-threatening medical emergency and they needed to remove the half-dozen people on the buses.
Around midnight, Bend Police tweeted that it appeared the federal agents had left the area, adding: "The attendees of the First Amendment event appear to have dispersed peacefully."
An ICE spokeswoman offered this statement late Wednesday night:
“The law enforcement activity in Bend, Oregon is part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s mission to arrest criminal aliens presenting a danger to public safety and take them off the street. The two individuals arrested each had a history of criminal violent behavior.
"While ICE respects the rights of people to voice their opinion peacefully, that does not include illegally interfering with their federal law enforcement duties. ICE will take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of its officers and detainees, and will vigorously pursue prosecution against anyone who puts them in harm’s way."
It all began when the president of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, Luke Richter began livestreaming on Facebook around 1 p.m. and stepped in front of the first of two buses, refusing to move. The livestream quickly was drawing hundreds, then over 1,500 viewers, followed by others arriving on scene and some streaming video as well.
The protest was a first, early test for Krantz, a former Portland assistant police chief sworn in just two days earlier. He gave a statement and answered reporter questions at a livestreamed news conference Wednesday evening, assuring that Bend's officers were only on hand to protect peaceful free speech and for "life-safety issues" -- not to assist ICE.
Krantz later went to the protest scene and used the bullhorn to warn the crowd, "My information is there will be federal agents coming here. They will ensure the safety of their employees and the people here."
Around that time, Bend Police tweeted: "We want to ensure community members present are safe. Please move to sidewalks, or leave the area."
"Let them go! Let them go!" protesters chanted at one point early on. "No justice, no peace!" they said.
City spokeswoman Anne Aurand confirmed that ICE personnel were in the location. She noted that the city of Bend is an official "Welcoming City," and in a resolution approved by the city council said "the city does not enforce federal immigration laws or detain people based on immigration status."
Bend police tweeted urging people to avoid the area around the SpringHill Suites by Marriott on Southwest Industrial Way, where the confrontation was underway.
"The Bend Police Department does not enforce ICE arrests," the agency tweeted, adding their officers were on seen "to ensure the safety of everyone on scene." Bend Mayor Sally Russell said in a tweet she was told both men detained by the ICE officers "have warants out for their arrest. This is not a sweep for undocumented immigrants."
"Let's keep our community safe," she wrote. "Please leave peacefully."
While the protest continued into the night, a Portland-based immigration rights law group filed suit in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security to try to keep ICE from leaving Bend with the detainees.
Meanwhile, Deschutes County District John Hummel tweeted Wednesday night that he was on the scene of the standoff "and was impressed by the passion and empathy shown by our community."
Hummel said he, Gov. Kate Brown, Mayor Sally Russell and Police Chief Michael Krantz "have been trying to broker a resolution with DHS to no avail." His tweet ended with the Twitter handle of acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and told him, "We're here -- let's work it out."
Central Oregon Peacekeepers President Luke Richter, who stood in front of the first bus to keep it from leaving, told NewsChannel 21, "If they're going to take people from a sanctuary city, they need to have proper documentation of that. We have not seen any warrants for their arrest."
Until the warrants are presented, he said, the men should be released.
More than 250 protesters were on hand by evening, many on hand for at least five hours, and many told NewsChannel 21 they plan to remain on site as long as they needed to.
Signs on display included "Stop separating families," "It ain't right" and "Where is the love?"
Friends of the detainees among growing crowd of hundreds of protesters said the men have lived here for some time, one 14 years.
Gus Juarez said the agents were hiding their identifications, and stopped one of the men going to work and the other coming home from work.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman as first could not confirm any details to NewsChannel 21 regarding the ICE activities.
But Regional Public Affairs Officer Tanya Romain said in a statement, “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion peacefully without interference.”
“ICE officers conduct targeted law enforcement activity and arrests throughout the course of their daily duties,” she added.
"Despite severe challenges, ICE remains committed to our public safety mission and ICE officers will continue to perform their sworn duty to seek out dangerous criminal aliens and other immigration violators. ICE seeks straightforward cooperation with state and local law enforcement and has never requested them to enforce federal immigration law.
"Due to law enforcement sensitivities and officer safety, ICE does not discuss planned operations.”