Last week, Portland's $300,000 payout to settle two lawsuits brought by lefty protesters raised eyebrows--but in reality city coffers will take a far bigger hit.

The settlement, for lawsuits stemming from police tactics at protests in August 2002 and March 2003, includes only payments to plaintiffs, who say cops brutalized them. It does not include the city's promise to pay legal fees, which should push the final total to well over a half-mil.

The price tag sparked grumbling among police--the settlement could exceed eight cops' salaries for a year. But the fact is, the protesters would probably have won even more money if a jury heard what happened at the two demonstrations.

The protest of an Aug. 22, 2002, visit by President Bush, for instance, featured mass pepper-spraying of protesters and innocent bystanders, including babies and independent observers from the city's own office of Independent Police Review ("Red-Pepper Blues," WW, Aug. 28, 2002). Police Bureau insiders have long conceded that the response to the demonstration was completely screwed up, mainly by upper-echelon police managers.

Such incidents explain why the city attorney's office wanted to keep the cases out of court. And the city paid protesters more rather than make significant policy changes the plaintiffs demanded. For instance, the activists wanted the city to ban en masse pepper-spraying in cases where protesters don't pose a threat to officer safety.

That decision could cost taxpayers more in the future. Alan Graf, the lawyer who leads the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, which filed the suit, says attorneys and plaintiffs have put settlement cash in a war chest to fund future brutality lawsuits.