Today, with the help of a ferocious team of lawyers at Tonkon Torp, we have filed six lawsuits in Multnomah County Circuit Court to hold the Portland Police Bureau accountable for their violent response to protest. The lawsuits include six plaintiffs who were brutalized by police at protests between October 2016 and June 2017.
Our clients were assaulted or battered at a protest at Portland City Hall in October 2016, at a youth-led protest following the election in November 2016, at the Not My Presidents Day protest in February 2017, and at a counter protest to the June 2017 Patriot Prayer alt-right gathering.
Freedom of expression and the right to dissent are the foundation of our democracy. A government is rightly judged by how it handles freedom of speech and expression, even more so when demonstrations are critical of them.
But in Portland, we have seen many examples where the police response is used to threaten or intimidate people, and ultimately, deter them from gathering in solidarity and voicing their collective grievances. We believe this behavior has had a chilling effect on free speech and assembly in our city and in our state.
Portland, once known for its quirky doughnuts and bookstores, has lately made headlines for its violent police response to protests in our city. By filing these lawsuits, we want to send a clear message: Portland Police must end its disportionate response to protests, commit to using safe and effective tactics of de-escalation, and respect the basic human rights of all people.
Like many Oregonians, we are concerned with the Portland Police Bureau’s rampant and indiscriminate use of excessive force at protests and of crowd control weapons like flash-bang grenades, chemical agents, and rubber bullets coated in chemical irritants. Officers are “at war” with the community, instead of keeping them safe and upholding their First Amendment rights. As you will see in the videos we will show shortly, downtown Portland frequently looked like a warzone whenever people gathered to express their dissent.
As I have said before, to our knowledge, no other police force in America uses crowd control weapons at protests with the regularity of the Portland Police Bureau. And I will also say again, unpermitted protests do not justify the use of force against the public.
The presence of heavily armed officers in riot gear to “control” unarmed peaceful protesters clad in jeans and tennis shoes is disproportionate on its face. Worse, it is prone to dangerously escalate situations. Changing officers’ uniforms and weapons can lead to a corresponding change in an officer’s attitude toward the public.
Despite the power imbalance, people have fought back by filming police. The resulting videos have changed the way the public understands police brutality. By filming officers in public doing their jobs, we can all let law enforcement that the eyes of the public are on them.
Last year, we filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the protesters, media, legal observers, and bystanders who were detained in the street for over an hour by police using a tactic called kettling. The kettle class-action and today’s lawsuits, taken together, reveal what anyone who has attended a protest or who watches the local news knows, the Portland Police have a pattern and practice of disportionate and dangerous responses to protest.
Portlanders are highly engaged in civic life and regularly take to the streets to express themselves. Today, we demand better from our city and our police. It’s time that our response to First Amendment activity reflects our shared values of fairness, justice, and equality.