Protesters sue Portland Police Bureau for 'excessive force'
Three protesters at a chaotic downtown demonstration in 2018 say they were targeted with the weapons of war — brandished by local police who "sympathized with the fascists and disagreed with the anti-fascists."
Now, Aaron Cantu, James Mattox and Tracy Molina have filed a federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations caused by the city and its police bureau .
"Defendants (in law enforcement) used unlawful, excessive force against plaintiffs, shooting them with rubber bullets and aerial munitions, and hitting them with batons," according to the 28-page suit filed Monday, Oct. 7 in the District of Oregon, which says police violated rally-goers' First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
While protests are as commonplace as pennies in Portland, the events of Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018 reached a rare pinnacle. Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson set the stage by announcing a gathering for his ultimately-unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign, drawing a much larger crowd of counter-protesters, some geared up in antifa outfits.
Police largely divided the two groups by setting up a skirmish line on Naito Parkway. After repeating orders to disperse, officers in riot gear charged pell-mell into the counter-protesters on Southwest Columbia Street. Several journalists were injured in the resulting fray, as well as active participants and others who said they were only observing.
Cantu, a local field engineer, did not hear the announcements from a police sound truck, according to the lawsuit. He was struck in the back of the head by a "flash bang" style projectile that pierced his bike helmet, the suit says, and suffered a traumatic brain injury that caused hemorrhaging. Cantu's lawyers believe the wound would have been fatal if not for the helmet.
Molina says she was complying with orders to move to the sidewalk when officers grabbed her sign ("Hey Racists Stop Making Your Ignorance Our Problem Grow Up or Go Home") and tackled her to the ground. She was arrested that day, but the case was dismissed.
Mattox said he was shot by rubber bullets while moving backwards "waving his arms and his anarchist shield, flipping off officers and shouting profanities," according to the suit.
He was hit once in the thigh — turned around and cried out you "Look you missed!" — and was then hit again in the arm.
"(Portland Police Bureau's) custom and practice is to use force indiscriminately against crowds of protesters with little or no provocation," the suit alleges.
Lt. Brad Yakots, a police spokesman, told the Tribune he could not comment on pending litigation. "I can confirm that we are still not using the aerial distraction devices as an option when employing our various crowd control strategies," he said.
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