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Law and Justice

ACLU Sues Portland Police, Saying Officers Attacked Journalists At Protests

Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Multnomah County Justice Center in the third week of widespread demonstrations against structural racism and police violence on June 15, 2020. Throughout the night protesters shined flashlights and laser pointers at police officers and sheriffs deputies, who ultimately used physical force and less lethal munitions to disperse the crowd
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Multnomah County Justice Center in the third week of widespread demonstrations against structural racism and police violence on June 15, 2020. Throughout the night protesters shined flashlights and laser pointers at police officers and sheriffs deputies, who ultimately used physical force and less lethal munitions to disperse the crowd

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed a class-action lawsuit Sunday, claiming Portland police are targeting and attacking journalists on duty at protests.

UPDATE (5:30 p.m. PT) — The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Oregon and Braunhagey & Borden LLP against the City of Portland, the Portland Police Bureau, and other local law enforcement agencies working under PPB’s direction.

The suit claims that police in Portland have tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, beaten and arrested journalists, observers and other neutral bystanders who are documenting the police’s response to protests.

“The police should not be shutting down the public’s access to the messages and realities of protest in Portland’s streets where people are calling for an end to police killing of Black people,” said Kelly Simon, interim legal director of the ACLU of Oregon in a statement.

“Police in Portland are making a mockery of the First Amendment by targeting journalists, using excessive force, and by using indiscriminate crowd-control weapons. Police actions have had a chilling effect on the media and protesters.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Portland and lays out multiple reports of violence against journalists at the hands of police.

Matt Borden, an attorney and partner at Braunhagey & Borden LLP, serves as co-counsel with the ACLU. Borden told OPB Sunday that under no circumstance should the police attack a person documenting the actions of a police officer.

"Attacking the press is considered to be a violation of international human rights and international norms. It's what happens in the most repressive countries in the world," Borden said.

"It should not be happening here, and it should not be happening in Portland."

OPB reporter Jonathan Levinson is among those who documented a police confrontation that’s listed in the lawsuit.

“Officers informed [Levinson] that if he did not ‘run,’ they would arrest him. They then violently arrested another individual and prevented Mr. Levinson from recording or reporting on the arrest,” the lawsuit reads.

Journalist Beth Nakamura with The Oregonian/OregonLive recounted being slammed from behind by a police officer wielding a baton on June 13.

“She had her hands up, press pass in hand, and was saying ‘press, press.’ The officer responded: ‘I don’t give a f—k,’” the lawsuit reads.

The following Monday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called Nakamura’s account of being attacked “extremely concerning.”

“Journalists need to be able to cover the protests safely,” Wheeler said, retweeting Nakamura’s description of the assault. “I know [the Portland Police Bureau] works hard to protect the rights of our press, but there are alarming incidents that need to be addressed.”

The lawsuit seeks an order declaring law enforcement’s actions “unconstitutional and prohibiting them from targeting and attacking journalists again.” The lawsuit also seeks damages for injuries sustained.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting