Protester’s assault lawsuit reveals long saga with Portland police

Protests

Demetrus Batchelor claims officers broke his tailbone at a protest in June, harassed him in the following weeks

Hundreds of protesters surround the police barrier near the Justice Center in downtown Portland for the 6th night of protests, June 3, 2020. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Portland man is suing the city, mayor and former police chief, accusing officers of fracturing his tailbone during a protest in June and harassing him in the months that followed with “baseless” traffic tickets, arrests and divulging information about his criminal past — including compelling prostitution — to fellow protesters.

The original incident happened early in the morning of June 4, after a racial justice demonstration in downtown Portland. The plaintiff, 34-year-old Demetrus Batchelor, had attended the protest and other demonstrations, attempting to “act as a calming influence” and to “deescalate situations before they turned violent,” according to the complaint filed last week in federal court.

The lawsuit accuses police of assault, battery, violating Batchelor’s First Amendment right to free speech as well as his Fourth Amendment right prohibiting the use of excessive force and unreasonable search and seizure. It seeks damages for an amount to be determined at trial.

Police declared a civil disturbance shortly before 3 a.m. on June 4, after they said agitators were throwing projectiles at officers, lighting fires and vandalizing buildings.

Protesters gather near the Justice Center in downtown Portland, June 3, 2020 (KOIN)

Officers tried to disperse demonstrators in the direction where Batchelor had parked earlier in the evening, attorney Scott Aldworth said. His client allegedly decided to wait at his car until the scene calmed down and he could drive home. That’s when a PPB vehicle drove by and, “unprompted,” an unidentified officer sprayed Batchelor with a chemical agent that caused him “extreme pain,” the suit alleges.

Batchelor managed to open his car door, but as his body was halfway inside, another officer rammed the back of the car with a police vehicle, causing the door of Batchelor’s car to slam into his back, according to the suit. An unknown officer allegedly told Batchelor, “Now you’re under arrest, and we’re towing your car,” instructing the injured man to sit on a nearby curb. When Batchelor tried to stand up to lessen the pain in his lower back, another officer “yanked him violently backward” onto his tailbone, worsening the pain, according to the suit.

Officers did not arrest Batchelor that night, but Aldworth said they did search his car without consent, then had it impounded, leaving Batchelor without a way to drive home.

Demetrus Bachelor at the hospital on June 4, 2020 (photo provided by Scott Aldworth)

Demonstrators acting as medics called an ambulance, which took Batchelor to the hospital. In the following days, Batchelor sought additional medical care and had x-rays taken, revealing a fractured tailbone, the suit alleges. He had to pay to get his car released from an impound lot and spent more than $2,200 for repairs, according to the lawsuit.

Batchelor’s attorney says his ordeal wasn’t over yet, though.

Since June, PPB officers have stopped him at least seven times for traffic violations including speeding, impeding traffic, driving uninsured, use of prohibited lighting equipment, and causing unreasonable sound amplification, court records show. The suit calls the traffic tickets “baseless” and claims they were used to harass Batchelor.

“He has a very distinctive car with these custom lights on the inside,” Aldworth said. “Officers knew who he was. He was a regular presence at the protests. They knew him. They knew his car.”

Batchelor continued attending protests after the June incident, and officers “loudly talked” about his criminal record in front of other demonstrators to try to embarrass him, Aldworth said.

The criminal record: In 2002, at age 16, Batchelor was convicted of third degree assault, according to court records. In 2007, he was convicted of compelling prostitution. The court handed him another felony conviction in 2014 for failing to report as a sex offender. Interspersed in the more serious charges are numerous traffic, parking and fare violations.

Portland police officers have arrested Batchelor at least twice since last summer.

He is currently being prosecuted in Multnomah County for one count of felon in possession of a firearm. Police arrested Batchelor at a protest in September 2020, after an officer allegedly found a pistol in the glovebox of his car.

This gun was found in a car near the Portland Police Association on September 4, 2020. Police said they arrested the driver, Demetrus Batchelor (PPB)

Officers arrested Batchelor again around 2 p.m. on January 3, 2021, records show. A spokesperson for PPB told KOIN 6 News multiple callers reported a car parked in downtown Portland, blocking lanes. Nobody was inside, but a loud speaker was playing spoken words “at a loud volume,” police said. When Batchelor returned and began to move the car, officers arrested him for disorderly conduct, PPB said. That charge was no complainted the next day, meaning Batchelor is not currently being prosecuted for it.

The lawsuit lists the City of Portland, Mayor Ted Wheeler, former police chief Jami Resch, and 21 officers as defendants, claiming they all played a role in “chilling” speech and “using militarized force against demonstrators who protest police brutality.”

Batchelor suffers severe physical and emotional trauma to this day, according to the suit, including pain in his back and difficulty sitting for long periods of time. He has also experienced depression, stress and a fear that he is being followed, according to the suit.

Aldworth expects it will take more than a year for the case to go to trial, but hopes it will dissuade officers from interacting with his client in the meantime. Ultimately, he hopes the suit will force the city to change its policies.

“I don’t think his suit’s going to be the only one that comes out of these demonstrations and I think it’s just sending a message that this type of behavior is unacceptable,” he said. “I hope that even people who maybe don’t agree with the underlying message of the protests can see that it’s wrong for somebody to be treated this way by government actors just because they’re peacefully expressing their opinion.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office, the City Attorney’s Office and the Portland Police Bureau declined to comment on the suit.

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