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Portland’s lawyers urge court to toss ‘outrageous’ lawsuit claims that police condone fascists

Attorneys say claims that officers dispersing an anti-facist protest in 2018 were doing so out of pro-facism sympathies ‘unnecessarily impugn the character of the city and its officers’

Maxine Bernstein
The Oregonian

PORTLAND — Lawyers for the city of Portland urged a judge Monday to throw out claims in a lawsuit that allege police used excessive force indiscriminately against anti-fascist protesters in an August 2018 protest while protecting Patriot Prayer demonstrators.

“That the city somehow condones or sympathizes with fascists is simply an outrageous claim that should be properly stricken,’’ Deputy City Attorney Michael Jeter argued in a hearing conducted by phone before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman. “It unnecessarily impugns the character of the city and its officers. It’s scandalous and has no business being in the lawsuit.’’

In October, three protesters who said they were assaulted by Portland police during the Aug. 4, 2018, demonstration downtown against Patriot Prayer filed a federal civil rights suit against the city and police. One of the protesters said a police flash-bang grenade struck the back of his head and penetrated his helmet and his skull.

The protesters contend that the city has a practice of using militarized force, including the firing of ‘aerial distraction devices,’ against left-wing or counter-fascist protesters to punish them for their political speech while not using force against right-wing protesters, such as the Proud Boys or Patriot Prayer.

Attorney Juan Chavez, representing two of the plaintiffs, Aaron Anthony Cantu and Tracy Molina, said police used force against counter-protesters with little provocation.

Cantu said he suffered a traumatic brain injury from a flash-bang grenade when police fired into a passive crowd.

Molina was holding a sign that read, “Hey Racists Stop Making Your Ignorance Our Problem Grow Up or Go Home” and was trying to get on the sidewalk near Southwest Columbia and First Avenue when police were trying to disperse the counter-protesters, according to the suit.

Co-plaintiff James Mattox says police fired a rubber-tipped projectile as he was moving away from officers, “waving his anarchist shield, flipping off the officers and shouting profanities,’’ the suit says.

He was hit first in his upper thigh, picked up the projectile, held it in the air and shouted, “Look you missed!’’ according to the suit. He was then shot again, in the right arm, the suit says.

Jeter said the plaintiffs’ claims are too broad, unclear, lack specific facts and should be thrown out or they should be ordered to file an amended complaint.

The suit alleges that conservative leader Joey Gibson of Patriot Prayer exploited the protests and that the city had a “history of coordinating with Gibson and his right-wing supporters to organize Portland Police Bureau for security at Patriot Prayer’s events.’’

Attorney James Buchal, who represents Gibson in a separate civil case in Multnomah County Circuit Court, urged the court on behalf of the National Police Association to allow the Delaware-based, nonprofit group that supports law enforcement to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Portland police.

“NPA believes that its briefing will benefit the Court by providing a broader perspective concerning the critical issues relating to police use of force during public unrest,’’ Buchal wrote.

“The NPA considers this case to be of special significance in that the use of less than lethal force is a crucial but often misunderstood tool used by police departments to combat dangerous public disorder,’’ wrote Ed Hutchison, president of the National Police Association, in a signed declaration filed in court. “The NPA advocates the use of force by police when public safety is jeopardized by anti-police organizations such as Antifa and their sympathizers.’’