PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Five protesters and Don’t Shoot Portland, a community advocacy organization, have settled its lawsuit with the City of Portland over the force used by the Portland Police Bureau during protests, the Oregon Justice Resource Center said in a release Tuesday.
The lawsuit was filed in 2020 following PPB’s use of tear gas, crowd control devices and weaponry against racial justice and civil rights protestors. From May 2020 to Sept. 2020, the bureau reports its officers used force against protesters more than 6,000 times.
“We needed to protect people and their right to free speech,” said Teressa Raiford, executive director of Don’t Shoot Portland. “It was important to document what was happening, especially the use of force.”
This use of force prompted a judge to issue a temporary restraining order that prohibited officers from using tear gas and lethal weaponry. The city, however, was found to have violated this order, prompting sanctions to be placed on PPB.
The settlement requires the city to uphold a series of conditions regarding PPB’s use of force, including limiting when tear gas, aerosol restraints, long range acoustical devices, FN303s and 40 mm less lethal launchers could be used.
“Anybody paying taxes in a city where we hire police to protect and serve, or if that’s actually what the job is, should really be concerned about citizens being attacked and assaulted and harmed, especially when they’re using their first amendment rights,” said Raiford.
The lawsuit deemed Portland officers will no longer be allowed to use rubber ball distraction devices, which are devices similar to flash bang grenades, and will have to destroy the devices currently in their possession.
“The additional requirements will keep the city in line with their own rules and regulations and state law and the federal constitution, as well,” said Juan Chavez, one of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit. “Just because we were seeing unprecedented levels of protest does not mean we take the Constitution to the shredder.”
The injunction that limits PPB’s use of force is in effect for 14 months.
“We will be vigilantly watching PPB over the next 14 months,” said Ashlee Albies, an attorney who represented the protesters.
Judge Marco Hernandez will oversee the enforcement during the 14-month period.
In addition to the injunction, the City was ordered to pay each of the five protesters represented in the suit $50,001.
KOIN 6 News contacted PPB to request a response to the settlement. The police bureau deferred to the mayor’s office or city attorney’s office for comment.
In a statement, Mayor Ted Wheeler said, “This mutually agreed result fairly and appropriately resolves the case to provide certainty for all parties. There have been many important changes since 2020 concerning the City’s response to demonstrations, including changes to state law and the Police Bureau’s policies, the City’s work toward body worn camera implementation, improved crowd management trainings, the discontinued use of rubber ball distraction devices, and others.”
Those involved in the suit hope other cities will use this case as an example.
“I do think it is a strong message to the public that your rights can be vindicated in a court of law and the city should never forget that,” said Chavez.
It’s still unclear what exactly may happen when the 14-month injunction is up. Chavez says, hypothetically, PPB could bring some of those items back but could be faced with another lawsuit down the road.