Protest suit to allege pattern of police abuse
• Attorney says videos, other new evidence show city's response to marchers violates their civil rights
Although clashes between police and antiwar protesters have diminished in recent days, a Portland attorney is planning to charge in federal court that police are abusing protesters.
Local activist attorney Alan Graf already has filed a federal civil rights suit alleging that Portland police mistreated protesters when President Bush visited town last August.
Now, Graf said, he plans to amend the suit to include what he calls more recent examples of police abuse, contending that they represent a continuing 'pattern and practice' of violating antiwar protesters' civil rights by using excessive force in recent demonstrations and marches.
City Attorney Jeff Rogers declined to comment.
Arrests from protests were down over the weekend.
Last Thursday, Portland Mayor Vera Katz, Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker and Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto announced that police would be more aggressive in their handling of protesters.
The change followed criticism from downtown business owners and others that protesters were being allowed to close city streets, bridges and even area freeways. Katz and Kroeker said that police would begin arresting people for even minor traffic infractions, including jaywalking.
Graf said one point of the civil rights complaint would be that police are improperly using pepper spray against protesters. Graf has obtained videotapes of recent demonstrations where police are seen spraying unresisting protesters from only a few inches away.
Police have long used pepper spray as a nonviolent way to disperse crowds, officials said. Since antiwar protests kicked into high gear March 20, police have used it several times downtown in confrontations with protesters who they say did not heed commands to stand back.
Some protesters have criticized the use of pepper spray, saying it affects innocent bystanders. Several people who were sprayed near the intersection of Southwest Second Avenue and Washington Street last week took a long time to recover from the sting and received help at the scene from Portland Fire Bureau medics.
Graf said that in one tape made during Thursday afternoon's protest, two officers are seen repeatedly spraying a young woman directly in the face while she's wedged between a no-parking sign and a newspaper box.
According to Graf, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that using pepper spray against helpless people constitutes excessive force.
'I will soon be submitting videotapes and witness statements to the court to show that police are still violating protesters' rights,' Graf said.
Other videos obtained by Graf, he said, show police leaning on the back of the heads of protesters who are on the ground with their hands cuffed behind their backs.
Graf filed the original suit on behalf of seven adults and three children who attended protests when Bush attended an Aug. 22 fund-raising gathering for Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith at the Hilton Portland hotel downtown. The suit named Mayor Vera Katz, Police Chief Mark Kroeker, the city of Portland and the Portland Police Bureau as defendants.
Graf recently amended the suit to name nearly two dozen Portland and Beaverton police commanders, sergeants and officers who were involved in crowd control.
Some of the videos in Graf's possession were shot by activists during confrontational protests that took place March 25, when protesters staged early morning marches through town and a noontime rally at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Police arrested several people at both events, occasionally using pepper spray to disperse the crowds.
Two days later, Katz, Kroeker and Giusto announced that all protesters arrested would be jailed until they could make bail.
The announcement preceded a permitted Friday afternoon march by the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, an unpermitted afternoon march by self-described radicals and an unpermitted Critical Mass bicycle ride through downtown.
Police arrested 12 people throughout the course of the evening. Downtown traffic was not seriously disrupted.
Things were even more subdued Saturday afternoon when about 200 protesters marched from Pioneer Courthouse Square to the South Park Blocks and then on to Terry Schrunk Plaza.
Under the eyes of a large police escort, the crowd stuck to the sidewalks and obeyed traffic signals. Three people were arrested for minor violations, including two protesters who stepped off the curb into the street before the march began.
In a related case, a KATU (2) engineer has filed a police internal affairs complaint alleging that officers assaulted him for no reason while he was helping cover the March 20 protests.
Randy Lyon filed the complaint Friday. Lyon said he was standing beside a KATU television microwave truck near Southwest Second Avenue and West Burnside Street when police began moving interviewers out of the street a little after 10:30 p.m.
The police bureau does not comment on internal affairs complaints until they are resolved.