SALEM — Last week got worse and worse for Rep. Mike Nearman as evidence mounted implicating him in orchestrating the breach into the State Capitol Dec. 21, 2020.
First, a non-partisan legislative investigation turned into the House Committee on Conduct June 2 concluded Nearman “more likely than not” intended to allow demonstrators into the Oregon State Capitol.
Then, perhaps most damaging, a video uncovered by Oregon Public Broadcasting Friday showed Nearman coaching constituents, allegedly days before the attempted incursion. In what he called “Operation Hall Pass,” he outlines a communication system and actions to take once “someone” opens the west entrance to the Capitol building.
At the 33-minute mark of the video, which was livestreamed to YouTube, Nearman outlines the plan.
“We’re talking about setting up Operation Hall Pass, which I don’t know anything about and if you accuse me of knowing something about, I’ll deny it. But there would be some person’s cell phone which might be…” Nearman said, then provides “just some random numbers.”
“That’s not anybody’s actual cell phone. And if you say ‘I am at the west entrance’ during a session in text to that number there, that somebody might exit that door while you’re standing there.
“But I don’t know anything about that, I don’t have anything to do with that, and if I did, I wouldn’t say that I did. But anyway, the number that I didn’t say was…” Nearman continued, again repeating the phone number. “So don’t text that number. But a number like that. Make sure you say what exit you’re at, too.”
The video will be added to the piling evidence against Nearman to be heard at the House Committee on Conduct meeting Wednesday (today).
Nearman, who represents District 23, which includes part of rural Polk County, was arraigned May 11 on charges of official misconduct and criminal trespass related to his actions during the Dec. 21 incident.
House Speaker Tina Kotek has called for Nearman to resign since the incident and after the video surfaced, in a statement is now calling for his expulsion.
“The severity of Representative Nearman’s actions and last week’s revelation that they were premeditated require a special committee to immediately consider expelling him from the House of Representatives,” Kotek said. “He knowingly put the physical safety of everyone in the Capitol — lawmakers, staff and law enforcement — in jeopardy. As we saw in January at the U.S. Capitol, the ramifications could have been dire if law enforcement had not stepped in so quickly. This is an unprecedented situation facing the Legislature. It is beyond a workplace conduct issue and must be treated as such.”
The House Committee on Conduct was already provided a report compiled by private attorney Melissa Healy, of Stoel Rives LLP law firm, in response to complaints made by David Hartsfield, Capitol building facility service manager, as well as other legislators and unnamed complainants.
“The evidence supports a conclusion that it is more likely than not that Rep. Nearman intentionally aided demonstrators in breaching Capitol security and entering the building on December 21, 2020, when it was closed to the public,” Healy wrote in her seven-page report released on June 2.
According to Healy’s report, she interviewed seven Democratic representatives about their experiences on Dec. 21 and their reaction to seeing people “visibly distraught,” “uneasy” and “distracted” after protesters breached the open doors.
“Several mentioned the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, as an example of what could have happened in Oregon and expressed concerns about Rep. Nearman’s continued presence in the Capitol in light of the serious threat that his actions presented,” Healy wrote.
More than two-dozen Democratic state representatives filed a workplace complaint against Nearman on Jan. 12. Hartsfield filed his complaint against Nearman on Feb. 23.
“I have thought long and hard about the decision to file this complaint, and I keep coming back to the lack of care and concern for the staff and members of this building and how the actions of this one individual jeopardized the safety and welfare of each and every person inside of the Capitol on that day,” Hartsfield wrote in his complaint.
A security video of the incident showed Nearman, while the Legislature was still in session, walking through and exiting a vestibule. Nearman was seen walking around a protester waiting outside, who then quickly grabbed the exterior door and sprinted to grab the interior vestibule door before it closed. The protester then waited for others before they were all pushed back outside by State Patrol and other capital police officers.
According to the report, (which can be read in full on the House Committee on Conduct Webpage at https://bit.ly/34SHyRU), Nearman walked around the side of the capital building and re-entered through another entrance about six minutes later.
Nearman, who has refused calls for his resignation, has had his committee assignments stripped.
The House Committee on Conduct will determine whether his conduct created a hostile work environment. The committee’s finding could subject Nearman to a House vote of expulsion. Two-thirds of the House of Representatives membership would need to approve a vote of expulsion.
Nearman would not answer the investigator’s questions at the advice of a lawyer, according to the report.
Nearman is being represented by attorney Jason Glenn Short, whose office declined comment.