A Southwest Washington man who frequently led conservative political protests in Portland that devolved into street fights is now suing the city for what his attorneys describe as political discrimination.
Joey Gibson, the founder of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, alleges in a lawsuit filed Thursday that a wide range of city and county officials violated his First Amendment speech rights when he was brought up on criminal charges related to a violent 2019 clash at a cider bar.
Gibson’s friend and fellow Patriot Prayer member Russell Schultz is also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Multnomah County prosecutors brought Gibson and Schultz to trial last year on riot charges after the pair helped lead a group of far-right protesters on May Day 2019 to a bar frequented by leftist demonstrators. Gibson and Schultz have acknowledged they went to the bar to film the bar patrons and provoke them into responding. Video from that day also shows Gibson helping to organize a fist fight between the bar bouncer and a far-right protester. Violence culminated when one of the people with Gibson, Ian Kramer, used a baton to knock out a bar patron. Kramer eventually pleaded guilty to riot and assault charges.
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Souede said at the trial it was clear the Patriot Prayer members were provoking violence.
“There is ample evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that the violence that erupted that day wasn’t an accident,” Souede said. “It was part of a plan, as Mr. Gibson is heard saying on the video.”
Still, Souede tossed the riot charges against Gibson and Schultz, saying he was “bewildered” that prosecutors in the district attorney’s office brought a riot charge to trial on the evidence they had. He said a lesser charge may have been appropriate in what he viewed as “an adult version of ‘I’m not touching you.’”
The lawsuit accuses a wide array of current and former Multnomah County and Portland officials, including Mayor Ted Wheeler, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell and two of his predecessors, as well as the prosecutors and detectives who worked the case against Gibson.
It accuses those officials of an “abusive misuse of governmental authority to punish political opponents” while ignoring actions by leftist demonstrators, which the lawsuit describes as “Antifa.” The lawsuit also states that Wheeler and the Portland media have defamed Gibson by describing him as a “violent, far-right extremist.”
Gibson’s lawyers allege that Portland police detectives opted not to arrest and charge patrons of the cider bar who allegedly kicked and spit on Gibson in 2019, despite him wanting to press charges later.
The lawsuit makes mention of a long series of other protests Gibson helped lead or participated in between May 2017 and May 2019, and at one point says the defendants engaged in a “conspiracy” to malign Gibson. As documented by OPB, Gibson’s protests were part of a broader, pitched political battle in Portland throughout Donald Trump’s presidency that often turned violent.
Gibson’s attorney, Angus Lee, said that they are seeking $100 million in damages from Portland and Multnomah County. Lee said his clients have also been targeted because of their views on “patriotism, Christianity, and limited government.”
The Portland city attorney’s office declined to comment on the pending litigation.