Three Portlanders who were injured last year in a self-described “counter-fascist protest” filed a civil rights lawsuit Monday against the city.
The lawsuit states the Portland Police Bureau violated the plaintiffs’ rights by using unlawful, excessive force against them when police shot rubber bullets and aerial munitions and hit people with batons.
The plaintiffs are Aaron Cantu, James Mattox and Tracy Molina.
They were protesting an Aug. 4, 2018, rally in support of Joey Gibson’s campaign for a Washington state U.S. Senate seat. Gibson is the leader of Patriot Prayer, the Vancouver-based far-right group that attracts white supremacists and has engaged in violence.
The legal complaint states Cantu was struck in the head with a projectile police filed at him. He was wearing a bike helmet, and the projectile penetrated it.
“Eventually, a medic got Mr. Cantu to a hospital,” the plaintiffs said in their lawsuit. “Mr. Cantu had suffered a traumatic brain injury, likely one that would have been fatal had he not been wearing a bike helmet.”
Cantu still suffers from dizziness and tinnitus more than a year after the incident, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also claims Molina was wrongfully arrested.
During the event, according to the legal complaint, she was following police orders to move along the sidewalk while carrying a sign which read, “Hey Racists Stop Making Your Ignorance Our Problem Grow Up or Go Home.”
The complaint states that a Portland Police Bureau officer grabbed Molina’s protest sign from behind, an action which surprised her, and she then turned around to hold on to her sign.
“An officer then knocked her to the ground with such force that she fell and rolled into the middle of the street, where a large group of officers dog-piled her in a tackle and arrested her,” the complaint said.
Molina was charged with attempt to commit a class C/unclassified felony; disorderly conduct; and interfering with peace/parole and probation officer.
She pleaded not guilty, and the case was dismissed in her favor.
Mattox, the third plaintiff, said a police officer fired “less lethal” rubber bullets at him multiple times as he was “flipping off the officers and shouting profanities.”
One bullet hit him in the arm and caused a large gash, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs’ legal complaint states Mattox was retaliated against for engaging in free speech.
“My clients want change from this department, and an acknowledgement that what happened that day shouldn’t have happened,” said Juan Chavez, an attorney with the Oregon Justice Resource Center who is representing Cantu and Molina. “We have yet to see from the city an acknowledgement that what happened that day was a travesty.”
Chavez said that throughout the day of Aug. 4, Patriot Prayer members refused to follow police orders, yet police paid more attention to the actions of counter-protesters.
“There’s videos of Mr. Gibson walking into the crowd. He crosses the police line into the group of counter-protesters, trying to rile them up,” Chavez said. “You didn’t see a single police officer trying to stop him from doing that. When other folks were doing that, they were getting detained or they were getting told to go back, but not Mr. Gibson.”
The lawsuit claims the police bureau used excessive force that violated the plaintiffs’ First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. It requests a jury trial.
A Portland official said the city cannot comment on pending litigation.