In recent days, five protesters in Portland filed lawsuits against the city, arguing that at different times since late May, all five were violently attacked by police using “military-style weapons” while they were peacefully protesting.
The civil lawsuits filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court allege battery and seek damages up to $950,000. In addition, each plaintiff is asking a judge for an injunction prohibiting the police from using weapons that launch projectiles.
“These lawsuits are not anti-police,” said attorney Michael Fuller, who is representing the protesters. “It’s against police brutality against unarmed protesters. That is the narrow scope of what we’re trying to accomplish. I don’t want it to be seen as we’re promoting looting or rioting and we’re not anti-police. We just want — you know, people have a right to go out there and peacefully protest.”
Across Oregon and the country, protesters have taken to the streets demanding justice for George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man killed by a white police officer last month after the officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd shouted, “I can’t breathe.”
At times in Portland, those protests have centered along a fence that surrounds the Multnomah County Justice Center in the city’s downtown core.
The city is also being sued in federal court by protesters and the group Don’t Shoot Portland to block police’s use of tear gas, also known as CS gas.
Calling the use of tear gas “ugly,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler signaled last week he wanted to temporarily ban its use, but over the weekend backed off a full ban.
“I strongly believe that gas should not be used to disperse crowds of non-violent protestors or for general crowd management purposes,” the mayor said in a statement Saturday. “It should only be used in response to violence that threatens life safety and there is no other viable alternative for dispersal.”
The judge in that case is expected to rule Tuesday.
On Monday, Portland Police Chief Jami Resch stepped down amid many nights of protests that have ended with police using force to disperse largely peaceful protesters.
When asked about the latest lawsuit, the city attorney’s office told OPB it can’t comment on pending litigation.
Each of the incidents involving injured protesters took place during different demonstrations, though many of them describe similar scenarios.
On May 31, photographer Mason Lake was documenting the protests when he said police fired less-lethal munitions, according to court documents.
“Police officers opened fire on Mr. Lake with military-style weapons including chemical weapons and explosive devices, and intentionally launched a projectile into Mr. Lake’s arm, resulting in an instant loss of feeling in his arm and swelling and broken skin, causing him pain, discomfort and distress,” court documents state.
More than a week later, Lake continues to have pain and a limited range of movement in his hand and arm.
“At no time during the protest did Mr. Lake ever act physically aggressive toward anyone,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Lake believes he was specifically targeted by City of Portland police officers because he was a photographer documenting police brutality.”
On June 4, Brandon Farley was at a protest when he alleges Portland Police “shot him in the knee with a rubber bullet, sending him to the hospital and causing him pain, discomfort and distress.”
On June 6, Daniel Michaels was downtown picking up a friend from a peaceful protest when police officers “opened fire” and “and intentionally launched projectiles into Mr. Michaels’s leg, rear, and hand, causing him pain, discomfort and distress,” another lawsuit states. “At no time during the protest did Mr. Michaels ever act physically aggressive toward anyone.”
Another protester on June 5, Julia Leggett, was demonstrating when she alleges police “intentionally launched a flashbang grenade” at her right leg as she was walking away from officers.
“The grenade exploded near Ms. Leggett’s right leg, shredding her pants, producing hematoma, and requiring immediate medical attention, causing her pain, discomfort and distress,” the lawsuit states. “Ms. Leggett continues to experience pain and the injury to her leg has now become infected. At no time during the protest did Ms. Leggett ever act physically aggressive toward anyone.”