A volunteer medic who was hit in the chest with a tear gas canister fired by a federal officer during racial injustice protests in Portland last summer sued U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials and agents Monday.
Nate Cohen had just doused a tear gas canister that had landed next to journalists and legal observers on July 26 when he was hit directly above the heart by a canister fired from 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) away, the federal lawsuit says.
Tear gas canisters are not meant to be used as an impact weapon, which can cause serious injury or death. The lawsuit says the federal officer “intentionally misused" the launcher as an impact weapon, which the agent's training prohibits and the manufacturer has not authorized.
The Department of Homeland Security says it cannot comment on pending litigation.
President Donald Trump deployed federal agents to Portland in July to protect federal property after the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse and the Multnomah County Justice Center next door became the epicenter of protests in the city following the death of George Floyd in May.
Cohen was injured there as he tried to aid wounded protesters, the lawsuit says.
“They were assaulted by troops only interested in protecting buildings at the expense of human bodies,” Cohen’s lead attorney, Erious Johnson, said in a statement.
Johnson, a former lead civil rights attorney for the Oregon Department of Justice, has banded together with several other attorneys to form Portland Lawyers for Black Lives Matter.
Last week, they sued on behalf of an activist who took video of the protests and a woman who formed part of a “Wall of Moms” group that confronted U.S. agents. The federal lawsuit claimed excessive force was used and that the two were arrested without probable cause.
After Cohen was hit by the canister, which caused him to stagger backward and collapse, a Wall of Moms protester drove him to an emergency room, where he was diagnosed with a severe chest wall contusion.
The lawsuit says Cohen had put red duct tape on his clothing in the form of crosses to show he was a medic, but “police and federal officers did not give the benefit of the doubt to protest medics when it came to deciding who was a threat and who was not.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages.
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