PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One of the lawyers representing Donavan LaBella, a protester who was shot in the face by a federal officer with a crowd control munition after he held a speaker above his head during a racial justice protest in Portland last summer, said he is planning to file a lawsuit on behalf of the man against the federal government and those involved in the incident before the end of the year.
James Healy of The Gatti Lawfirm, which is representing LaBella, told KOIN 6 that his client “suffered a significant brain injury” as a result of the incident in which “he was shot in the face by a federal officer.”
According to Healy, one specialist even compared the injury to a frontal lobotomy.
In addition, Labella is reportedly homeless, according to an Oregon Public Broadcasting article in which LaBella’s mother, Desireé LaBella, said her son had been couch hopping for the last few months and is currently living in a tent.
We asked Healy if LaBella’s mother is available to give a statement and he said she is not able to give any further comment beyond what was written in the OPB article. When asked whether he could confirm that LaBella was homeless, Healy declined.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General announced an investigation into use of force allegations by DOJ law enforcement officers in Portland during July 2020.
According to a July 23, 2020 press release, Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said that the investigation was being conducted in response to congressional requests, complaints received by the OIG and a referral from the U.S. Attorney in Oregon.
Though it’s unclear at this time who the specific officer was who fired the munition, the department the individual was with was the U.S. Marshals Service, according to the Associated Press.
Healy said he is trying to hold the federal government accountable for the injury.
“We do not know who the officer is. And I’m not sure the extent which the federal government knows who it is. I suspect they might, but they haven’t told us.”
Healy added that he has spoken with people from DOJ that confirmed to him there are investigations going on, including specifically looking into the incident with LaBella.
He said DOJ officials even wanted to interview LaBella, but the lawyers decided not to make him available to the DOJ for a statement at this time. However, Healy said LaBella is able to talk and verbalize, despite the injury.
Healy said once he finds out who the officer was that shot LaBella, that person, any supervisory personnel who bears responsibility and the United States of America itself will be the ones who will face the lawsuit.
KOIN 6 News reached out to DOJ to see if they could comment on their investigation into federal officers’ use of force during 2020 protests in Portland, but we did not receive a response in time for publication.
Senator Ron Wyden, who was one of many local and national Oregon leaders who denounced the actions of federal officers during the protests, said he’s been pressing the federal government on answers and to hold people accountable.
In response to the latest updates about LaBella’s condition, he told KOIN 6 News in a statement: “Questions about the shooting of this peaceful protester by the federal troops dispatched last year by Donald Trump to Portland are among my inquiries requiring accountability and answers from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security,” Wyden said. “And I’m going to keep pressing those federal agencies until I am satisfied that justice is done.”
The incident took place during one of Portland’s many unbroken nights of racial justice protests during the summer of 2020, which began in late May of that year, in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police Officer. July 10 marked the first instance of use of force by federal officers, under orders of then-President Trump, against demonstrators outside Portland’s federal courthouse, making arrests and using tear gas against protesters, according to Portland Police Bureau.
On the evening of July 11, 2020, LaBella was seen lifting a speaker above his head in front of the Hatfield Federal Courthouse moments before a federal officer shot him in between the eyes, leaving him bleeding on the ground. The moment was described to KOIN 6 News by a witness which was later corroborated by cell phone footage.
Multiple videos showed LaBella bleeding profusely from his head as he was carried off by other protesters. A KOIN 6 News reporter also saw large pools of blood on the sidewalk and in the grass in Lownsdale Square across the street from the courthouse that witnesses said was from LaBella. It’s unclear what type of crowd control munition was used.
It was later revealed, in a memo leaked to the New York Times, that the Department of Homeland Security warned that federal agents deployed to protect federal buildings in Portland did not have specific training in riot control or mass demonstrations.
While LaBella was initially released from the hospital a couple weeks after the incident, after receiving facial reconstruction surgery, he was later re-admitted for an infection related to the injury, Healy said.