Reporters sue city of Portland, others after arrests while covering protest
This story has been updated to include statements from the reporters involved in the suit.
Independent journalists Cory Elia and Leslie McLam are suing the city of Portland and state of Oregon, among several defendants, in federal court for violating their constitutional rights.
Elia and McLam were arrested while covering a protest against police brutality and militarization on June 30.
In a complaint filed the evening of Wednesday, July 8, Elia and McLam allege that their First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated during a series of incidents beginning May 31, including being kicked and shoved by police, culminating in their arrests.
Elia is the managing editor of Village Portland, and has reported for KBOO Community Radio and the Portland State University paper the Vanguard. McLam has reported for Village Portland, the Portland Community College student newspaper The Bridge and KBOO Community Radio, according to the complaint.
In a written statement, Elia said as he covered the protests and police reaction, he thought the First Amendment would protect him from the police brutality he said he saw being used against protesters. "I am bringing this lawsuit because the suppressive tactics used by the police to silence journalists is not only a violation of the First Amendment, but an attack on the public's right to be informed of the injustices happening in their own community at the hands of those who are sworn to 'protect and serve.'"
McLam said in a written statement that while city and state government officials have condemned the violence against reporters, nothing is being done. "Night after night, the police continue to target journalists. Night after night, reporters suffer physical and emotional injury by the police. Because the city, the mayor, and other elected officials have failed to hold the police accountable for their unconstitutional actions against the press, I am exercising my constitutional rights to seek redress of my grievances against government actors in federal court."
The night they were arrested, McLam and Elia were live-streaming a protest in North Portland on June 30, according to the complaint. Both were carrying press identification.
Police officers allegedly "descended upon" Elia after he recognized Portland Police Officer John Bartlett standing in a police line from a previous protest. Elia alleged that he did not resist arrest but officers knelt on his shins and kicked him in the scrotum before being handcuffed.
McLam saw Elia being arrested, allegedly yelled that he was a journalist and filmed the officers arresting Elia from a crosswalk, the complaint states. Six police officers allegedly then tackled her to the ground.
As McLam yelled that she was a member of the press doing her job, the complaint alleges that officers kicked and punched her, and one officer "attempted to wrestle her phone from her grip."
Both Elia and McLam were taken to the Multnomah County Detention Center in the early morning of July 1, where Elia alleges no one was wearing masks, and after asking the sheriffs why multiple times, one said, "Shut the f--- up."
Elia allegedly was held in isolation for part of the night. Elia alleged he had a panic attack while in the cell, causing vomiting, claustrophobia and heart palpitations, and he didn't receive medical attention for half an hour.
McLam allegedly was in isolation for most of her arrest, according to court documents, in a cell that appeared to be covered in "dried, sticky vomit and smeared feces." She wasn't given a change of clothes, and when her menstrual cycle began early, she could not get a pad for half an hour, though her cell did not have toilet paper or running water.
Elia was released at 11:30 a.m. on July 1 and charged with interfering with a peace/parole and probation officer, resisting arrest, first degree disorderly conduct and assaulting a public safety officer, according to the complaint. His trial is scheduled for September.
McLam was not released until 6:30 p.m. the same day, though she was not charged with a crime, according to the complaint. A sheriff allegedly said he gave her a $825 debit card for her bail money and $75 cash she had when she was arrested, but the card was not folded in the receipt, as she allegedly believed.
Elia and McLam seek a declaration that the actions taken against them by law enforcement were unconstitutional and a restraining order preventing police from "engaging in unconstitutional conduct targeting journalists," according to the complaint.
In addition, they asked that written policies be created or supplemented "to ensure that those engaging in political speech are treated fairly and with respect and are not discriminated against or retaliated against because of their protected speech" and training on the First and Fourth Amendments, crowd deceleration and the history of the free press.
They also asked for an unspecified amount of money in economic and noneconomic damages, as well as punitive damages.
Other defendants listed include Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, former Police Chief Jami Resch and current Police Chief Chuck Lovell, as well as Officer Bartlett and several other Portland police, state troopers and deputy sheriffs.
A similar suit, representing six journalists and legal observers, was filed June 28 against the city of Portland.
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