July 29 (UPI) -- Federal police officers will begin a phased withdrawal from Portland, Ore., after weeks of controversy over their response to protesters, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday.
She said the U.S. government agreed to begin its withdrawal from the Mark Hatfield U.S. Courthouse beginning Thursday and will clean the courthouse and remove graffiti.
"These federal officers have acted as an occupying force, refused accountability and brought violence and strife to our community," Brown said. "Beginning Thursday, all Customs and Border Protection and ICE officers will leave downtown Portland and shortly thereafter will begin going home."
She said local and state police will remain at the location to provide security as protests continue, and a smaller number of federal officials who provide security year-round, will remain inside the building.
Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, appeared to contradict Brown's announcement in a statement later in the afternoon.
"As I told the governor yesterday, federal law enforcement will remain in Portland until the violent activity toward our federal facilities end," he tweeted. "We are not removing any law enforcement while our facilities and law enforcement remain under attack."
DHS said it came to an agreement with Brown for a plan to end violence directed at the federal courthouse and officers.
"That plan includes a robust presence of Oregon State Police in downtown Portland. State and local law enforcement will begin securing properties and streets, especially those surrounding federal properties, that have been under nightly attack for the past two months," DHS said in a statement.
The release said state police would coordinate with federal officers to protect the federal facilities and the department would continue its current level of personnel in Portland.
Brown's announcement comes the morning after federal officers confronted about 1,00 demonstrators on their 62nd night of protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Witnesses said the officers, sent to the city by the Trump administration to protect government property, were stationed behind a fence surrounding the federal courthouse and occasionally fired pepper balls and other non-lethal weapons at activists.
Some protesters started a fire inside the fence and began shooting commercial-grade fireworks toward the courthouse and threw rocks, bottles and other objects, police said.
Around midnight Tuesday, federal officers warned protesters against damaging property. Ninety minutes later, they declared the gathering an "unlawful assembly" and fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
Clashes lasted until early Wednesday. Portland police said no local officers were present and they made no arrests.
"I have grown increasingly concerned at the nightly confrontation between local community members and federal officers. We need to recognize that the protests in Portland are not solely about the federal presence. They started before federal agents descended on our city and they will likely continue after they leave," Brown said Wednesday.
"Across America and across Oregon, the Black Lives Matter movement has led a historic uprising, centering black voices demanding justice and greater police accountability."
President Donald Trump sent federal police to the city with an executive order aimed at protecting statues, monuments and other government property, despite opposition from local leaders.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who was tear gassed one night last week, tweeted Monday that he wanted to meet with administration officials to discuss a "cease-fire" and removing federal police from his city.
About 130 miles to the north, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said federal police have "demobilized" and left her city.
"The president's actions to target Democratic cities with federal forces is chilling and increased violence in Portland, Seattle & other cities -- exactly what the president intended," she tweeted late Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration on Wednesday announced plans to deploy federal law enforcement officers to three more cities -- Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee.