A protester with disabilities was trapped inside a car for hours after Portland police slashed its tires near a curb — preventing the woman from fully opening the passenger door or accessing her wheelchair, a new lawsuit claims.
The suit accuses Portland Police Bureau Officer Brent Taylor of stabbing the vehicle's tires, leaving protester Hanna Helm stranded and stuck for nearly five hours, despite the best attempts of her boyfriend, who was driving the car.
Neither Helm nor her boyfriend were arrested or cited during the incident.
"They were out there just to make a show of support for Black lives and ending police violence," said attorney Alan Kessler. "Police pulled them over for no reason, didn't discuss anything with them, immobilized their vehicle and then drove off."
The Aug. 14 protest was the city's 78th night of consecutive demonstrations — and featured baton-wielding riot cops charging into a black-clad shield wall near the Portland Police Association union headquarters after authorities declared an unlawful assembly.
The suit argues the police activity was "unlawful restraint" of protesters' free speech rights.
Helm, a resident of Clark County, said she was there only to pass out snacks and water from the hatchback. A riot van ferrying officers pulled her over around 1:30 a.m. Aug. 15 on North Morgan Street, per the suit, and what followed was captured on video.
A protester with disabilities was trapped for nearly 5 hours after Portland police slashed all 4 tires of a car, lawyers say— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) June 16, 2021
The passenger could not fully open her door or access her wheelchair, a lawsuit says
She seeks $800,000 in damages from the city and Officer Brent Taylor pic.twitter.com/NVhB3efrj9
"Given plaintiff's disability, she did not have the luxury of crawling through the driver's door to freedom," according to the litigation, which says Helm's wheelchair was plainly visible through untinted windows. "Plaintiff was forced to sit in one position for hours, exacerbating her medical conditions and symptoms."
While not unseasonably chilly that night, the suit claims the weather was cool enough to aggravate Helm's medical conditions. The city of Portland later cut a $630.38 check to Kyle Grunewald, the driver and boyfriend, for the slashes inflicted to all four tires of his Subaru Forester, according to Kessler and city records.
An amended copy of the lawsuit filed this June in Multnomah County Court seeks $800,000 in damages for false imprisonment, assault, emotional distress, negligence and disability discrimination.
"Under federal law, police officers have a duty to modify their practices to accommodate people with disabilities, and we believe the same rule applies under Oregon law," said C. Rian Peck, an attorney with Visible Law.
While Portland police officers stopped wearing name tags during the unprecedented uprising last year, Kessler and Peck say Helm recognized Officer Taylor, also of Clark County, who was given a nickname by internet users for frequently puncturing tires during protests.
Taylor's attorney did not deny his client's involvement but broadly dismissed the claims.
"Cars still roll, residential driveways do not block doors from opening, and heaters still work even if the tires are not all inflated," said the lawyer, Aaron Hisel.
Juan Chavez of the Oregon Justice Resource Center and Jane L. Moisan of the People's Law Project have joined Visible Law in pursuing the case.
The police bureau and city attorney's office declined to comment on pending litigation.
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