Donavan LaBella, who was peacefully protesting outside the federal courthouse in Portland last summer when a federal law enforcement officer shot him in the face with a “less lethal” impact munition, has filed a lawsuit in federal court.

The lawsuit calls the unnamed officer’s actions “unprovoked, unjustifiable, and unlawful.”

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Donavan La Bella, 26, was shot in the head by a U.S. Marshal and suffered a frontal lobe skull fracture during protests against racism and police violence in Portland. Two weeks later, before being released from the hospital, his mom said he still has cognitive problems and struggles with impulse control.

Donavan LaBella was shot in the head by a U.S. Marshal and suffered a frontal lobe skull fracture during protests against racism and police violence in Portland.

Courtesy of the family

LaBella’s injury on July 11, 2020, was captured on video and shared widely by news organizations and on social media. The video depicts then 26-year-old LaBella holding a speaker over his head, pointed at the courthouse. Federal officers are lined up outside the building. One turns on a bright light. A moment later, an officer fires a less lethal munition. It strikes LaBella in the face. He collapses onto the street and crowd of protesters rush to his aid.

Like other protesters who have tried suing federal law enforcement agencies over injuries, LaBella’s attorneys have struggled to identify the officers by name and even agency.

The lawsuit names “John Does 1-10″ as unknown federal law enforcement officers, believed to be with the U.S. Marshals Service, present or responsible for shooting LaBella.

“Defendant John Doe 1 is the currently unidentified federal officer who, unjustifiably and without provocation, pulled the trigger and launched into [LaBella’s] skull and brain a ‘less-lethal’ impact munition,’” the lawsuit states.

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Desiree LaBella, Donavan’s mother, said Thursday that the people responsible for injuring her son need to be held accountable.

“As much as we wish it didn’t have to come to this, he’s irreparably damaged,” she said.

Jonathan Luczycki paints Donavan La Bella across from the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., July 22, 2020. La Bella is in recovery weeks after federal officers shot him in the head with so-called "less lethal" munitions.

Jonathan Luczycki paints Donavan LaBella across from the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., July 22, 2020.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

The injury changed LaBella’s personality, rendering him at times short-tempered and unable to work, she said. For months, he’s been homeless and living in a tent in Portland.

“We’re in the process of remedying that,” Desiree LaBella told OPB.

The lawsuit also lists numerous physical injuries to LaBella’s face and nose from the incident, some of which will require on-going treatment, the lawsuit states.

“[LaBella] now suffers from a debilitating and permanent frontal lobe brain injury which has negatively altered the course of [his] life,” the lawsuit states. “[LaBella’s] brain injury has been equated by medical professionals to a frontal lobotomy.”

The U.S. Department of Justice is also conducting a criminal investigation of the incident, OPB reported in September. Last year, the agency’s Office of Inspector General announced an investigation into use of force allegations by DOJ law enforcement officers in Portland during July 2020. But the criminal nature of the investigation had not been known.

About 2,000 showed up to day 56 of protests in Portland on July 23, 2020. Racial justice protests in the city continue to grow in size after  federal law enforcement officers deployed to help secure federal properties from protesters.

About 2,000 showed up to day 56 of protests in Portland on July 23, 2020. Racial justice protests in the city continue to grow in size after federal law enforcement officers deployed to help secure federal properties from protesters.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

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Those injured in 2020 protests still seeking officer accountability

It’s been nearly 14 months since federal law enforcement officers shot Donavan LaBella in the face with a less lethal munition while he was peacefully protesting outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. Now, he’s homeless, living in a tent, and the U.S. Department of Justice is still conducting a criminal investigation of the incident.