PORTLAND, Ore.—The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon and Braunhagey & Borden LLP filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of journalists and legal observers who were targeted and attacked by the police while documenting protests in Portland over the killing of George Floyd. The lawsuit was filed against the City of Portland and police in Portland.

In Portland, police have fired rubber bullets at journalists and legal observers; tear-gassed them; pepper-sprayed them in the face; beaten them with batons; and thrown flash bangs directly at them. Police have arrested journalists and legal observers. Police have also fired BBs into crowds of protesters. Similar attacks have been reported across the country.

“It is dangerous for police to be attacking the media this way, this is not the America we want to live in,” said Matt Borden, partner at Braunhagey & Borden LLP. “The free press is a core and important right in this country that helps keep the government in line.”

Local reporters have circulated a petition that has collected over 3,600 signatures to ensure that police in Portland cease intimidating and assaulting media, writing “...when individual journalists are attacked by PPB at protests, there is a broader injury done to the public interest, and to the public’s right to know what is being done in their name.”

Plaintiff Kat Mahoney, a local attorney and co-chair of Portland United Against Hate, said she volunteers with the ACLU to monitor protests so that the police know that neutral observers are watching their actions and will hold them accountable for abuse. Mahoney was subjected to tear gas and hit by shrapnel from a rubber bullet that police shot at her even though she was wearing a clearly marked ACLU of Oregon legal observer vest. 

“These protesters are there to say Black Lives Matter, and to end police brutality targeting people based on the color of their skin,” Mahoney said. “It is ridiculous that protesters of police brutality are then subjected to police brutality. The public needs know about the abuses of power and dangerous behaviors of police in Portland.”

“The police should not be shutting down the public’s access to the messages and realities of protest in Portland’s streets where people are calling for an end to police killing of Black people,” said Kelly Simon, interim legal director of the ACLU of Oregon. “Police in Portland are making a mockery of the First Amendment by targeting journalists, using excessive force, and by using indiscriminate crowd-control weapons. Police actions have had a chilling effect on the media and protesters.”

Plaintiff Doug Brown attended many of the protests as a legal observer with ACLU of Oregon. He was beaten by police with batons and targeted with flash bangs. “The police are doubling down on tactics proven to be dangerous, escalatory, and unconstitutional while targeting the legal observers and brave journalists risking their personal safety and freedom to inform the public about what’s actually happening. This cannot stand.” 

“I felt it to be my civic duty to use my skills and equipment to document this important moment in history,” said plaintiff Mathieu Lewis-Rolland, a freelance photographer. “I was horrified and bewildered by what I witnessed. Portland’s police, who are sworn to protect the community and uphold the Constitution, were doing the opposite; violently suppressing the First Amendment rights of the people.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Portland Division. It seeks an order declaring law enforcement’s actions unconstitutional and prohibiting them from targeting and attacking journalists again. The lawsuit also seeks damages for injuries sustained.

The suit was filed by the ACLU Foundation of Oregon, Braunhagey & Borden LLP.

The complaint is here