ACLU of Oregon Legal Director Mat dos Santos issued this statement following the conclusion of the Zebroski v Portland trial.
Portland police officers involved in the violent arrest of Peggy Zebroski escaped liability for their use of excessive force against a peaceful protester when the jury returned a verdict finding that no battery had occurred. We are deeply disappointed in today’s outcome. This verdict is a loss for Peggy, the public’s right to assemble, and our constitutional right to peaceful protest.
On February 20, 2017, Peggy was among a group of peaceful protestors gathered in front of the Edith Wyatt Federal Building for the Not My Presidents Day protest. Peggy, a member of Don’t Shoot PDX, was there in protest to call for justice for Quanice Hayes, an unarmed Black teenager who was killed by police earlier that month. Officers tackled Ms. Zebroski while she was on the sidewalk, dragged her several feet to the street, placed her face down on the street, and then knelt on her head and shoulder. The officer crushed Peggy’s face into the asphalt, breaking her nose.
While we are disheartened by today’s decision, this is not over. Peggy’s case is one of several cases brought by the ACLU of Oregon on behalf of Oregonians hurt by Portland Police Bureau’s unwarranted use of force against members of the public.
These cases aren’t just about broken bones and bloodied faces. When the PPB uses excessive force against the public gathered in protest, it has a profound and harmful effect. Fearful of being the next victim of police brutality, members of the public are deterred from gathering in solidarity and voicing their collective grievances. This harms the very cornerstones of our democracy.
In short, the use of force by the PPB on peaceful protesters in Portland is retaliatory, unnecessary, and has had a chilling effect on free speech and assembly in our city and in our state.
The PPB must end its disproportionate response to protests, commit to using safe and effective de-escalation tactics, and respect the basic human rights of all people.
We demand better from our city and our police.
It's time for the City of Portland to respond to protected First Amendment activity in a way that reflects our shared values of fairness, justice, and freedom.
Freedom of expression and the right to dissent are the foundation of our democracy. A government is rightly judged by how it responds to the speech and expression of its people, even more so when that speech is critical of the government.
We will continue to fight for the First Amendment right to peacefully protest.