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Federal lawsuit claims that law enforcement targeted medics with arrest and excessive force.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Federal police officers unleased tear gas, pepper spray and crowd control munitions during a protest in Portland on Friday, July 17.Four volunteer medics treating people hurt during downtown Portland protests are suing the city and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, saying they were targeted and attacked by Portland and federal law enforcement.

Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union Oregon and Perkins Coie LLP, the medics filed the civil rights action against the city of Portland, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service and Portland Police Officer Stephen Pettey, who allegedly arrested one of the medics.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday, July 22, in U.S. District Court. Included in the defendants were 60 "John Does" who work for the Portland Police Bureau, and 40 "John Does" among the federal agents. In legal terms, the identities of the "John Does" could be added to the compliant.



The city and federal agencies do not comment on pending litigation. No court date has been set for the case.

Among the allegations, lawyers representing the medics said the medics have been repeatedly attacked by law enforcement with tear gas, pepper spray, batons, rubber bullets and flash bangs.

"While they work as protest medics, plaintiffs often are left in the impossible position of complying with the orders of law enforcement while rendering aid to injured protesters, journalists, and legal observers," according to the complaint.

They allege that Portland police and federal agents have "indiscriminately attacked, and at times have specifically targeted protest medics." The police and federal agents violated the medics' Constitutional rights to peacefully protest and from excessive force, according to the compliant.

The plaintiffs seek a judgment declaring that targeting medics for arrest or attacks is unconstitutional, as well as monetary damages for the medics. "Plaintiffs intend to continue rendering aid to protest attendees in Portland as a show of their solidarity and support for the protesters' message, the Black Lives Matter movement, and for their own message to Defendants that their violence will not deter Oregonians from exercising their free speech rights," according to the complaint. "Plaintiffs are fearful, however, that they will be subjected to police violence or dispersed without reason."

Hit by a rubber bullet

One of the medics is Christopher Wise, a former EMT and one of the few Black medics at the protests, according to court documents. "Black lives matter; my life matters. We have to keep saying it until people understand it," he said in an ACLU press release. "I act as a protest medic because I believe what people have to say is important, and no one should be forced to stop saying it with these protests."

According to court documents, much of the violence Wise experienced blurs together — the lawsuit alleges he has been attacked by police and federal officers with rubber bullets, flash bang grenades, pepper bullets, riot batons and tear gas.

In one of the specific incidents mentioned, Wise was helping a protester out of a cloud of tear gas when a Portland police officer allegedly shot Wise in the shin with a rubber bullet on June 2. The wound got infected and still hasn't healed over a month later, according to court documents.

Michael Martinez, a graduate student at the Oregon Health & Science University, volunteered with an OSHU group after seeing the effects of the tear gas and munitions on protesters. Portland Police Officer Pettey allegedly arrested Martinez, and officers seized medical supplies from the volunteer group's tent while he was trying to pack up after police declared an unlawful assembly June 13.

Since his arrest, Martinez has scaled back his time as a volunteer and the group has changed its tactics. "I filed this lawsuit because many people in this country, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, will never have their day in court," Martinez said in the release. "I feel it's all the more important to use whatever resources and power I have to confront this abhorrent system, which allows people in America, primarily Black people, to be beaten and killed by police without consequence."

Christopher Durkee and Savannah Guest, of Lane County, have volunteered as medics at several protests, court documents state. A video of them being allegedly beaten by federal law enforcement went viral on Twitter.

"Who do you call to report this?" Durkee said in the release. "Who can hold these agents accountable for misconduct?"

This is the second lawsuit the ACLU has filed against the city of Portland and federal agencies; the first, on behalf of journalists and legal observers covering the protests, led to an injunction preventing Portland police from arresting or attacking reporters and legal observers.


Gina Scalpone
Reporter
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