PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Portland Police Bureau and the City of Portland “on behalf of journalists and legal observers who were targeted and attacked by the police while documenting protests.”
The suit claims that police have used tear gas, pepper spray, shot rubber bullets and thrown flash bangs directly at both journalists and legal observers. The filings also state that police have arrested members of the media and legal observers.
The complaint lists six primary plaintiffs—two ACLU observers and four journalists—and includes others similarly situated: Tuck Woodstock, Doug Brown, Sam Gehrke, Mathieu Lewis-Rolland, Kat Mahoney, and John Rudoff.
“Most nights I’m out there it’s really terrifying to be out there,” said Brown, a legal observer for the ACLU.
“I would say, in the three years of being a legal observer, this past month of June has been the most violent and the most outrageous that I’ve seen the police handle situations,” said Mahoney, another observer. She said her most frightening moments involved getting gassed.
“Aside from the side effects that are normally listed with tear gas, I had involuntary muscle spasms and twitching for two and a half hours afterwards,” described Mahoney. “I couldn’t count past six or figure out how to open my front door. I had to stay awake on the phone with the head of the legal observer team so that she could talk to me and figure out if she needed to come get me.”
Brown said he was traumatized after flash bang devices were launched toward him.
“Just, the noise that came from those grenades that were fired at me and seeing them come towards me was one of the most frightening experiences of my life,” said Brown.
Matt Borden is co-counsel with the ACLU. He said the lawsuit is intended to try to stop the police from attacking and assaulting legal observers and reporters in the future.
“The whole idea of the first amendment is it’s a check on government power,” said Borden.
“Police in Portland are making a mockery of the first amendment by targeting journalists, using excessive force and by using indiscriminate crowd control weapons,” said Kelly Simon, Interim Legal Director for the ACLU of Oregon.
Borden said they are asking for damages for those injured by the conduct. He said the suit was filed in the Federal District Court in Portland and they also plan to file for a temporary restraining order to prevent police from targeting reporters and observers.
“When you shut down the free press, that is when you are in danger of becoming one of these other countries in the world, where they don’t have these things,” said Borden. “That is one of the most important features of our constitutional government.”
KOIN 6 News reached out to the City of Portland for comment on the lawsuit and a spokesperson said they do not comment on pending litigation. The same request for comment sent to the Portland Police Bureau has not been returned.
Protests against police brutality have been happening across the City of Portland for the past month in the wake of George Floyd’s death, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.
On the city’s east side, daily marches began at Revolution Hall, led by a new community coalition named Rose City Justice. Those demonstrations proceeded largely without confrontations with police and are contrasted by the nightly protests outside the Multnomah County Justice Center, which started on May 29. The first night of protests ended in violence when demonstrators broke into the Justice Center. Other stores downtown were broken into and looted and police declared a riot.
In the weeks since, police and protesters have clashed outside the Justice Center.
A temporary restraining order was put on the police’s use of tear gas on demonstrators, from a ruling issued June 9.
Those local protests are a part of a nationwide call for an end to police violence