In Legal Claim, Protester Says Portland Police Stole His Loudspeaker for Playing the National Anthem During Altercation

He’s one of six protesters who claim they were targeted for protesting, not for committing crimes.

A Portland protester at the federal courthouse in July 2020. (Alex Wittwer)

Demonstrators have protested for Black lives and against systemic racism for nearly 100 days. New videos repeatedly show protesters tackled, punched and violently arrested by the Portland Police Bureau.

In a legal notice filed this morning, six protesters are claiming officers attacked them because they were protesting, not because they were committing crimes. The six protesters have notified the city they intend to sue.

The protesters claim police officers stole from them, placed them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 during arrest, and severely injured them.

One of the protesters who is suing, Evan Henshaw-Plath, said officers attacked him for the song he was playing on a loudspeaker. On Aug. 22, he was at the Portland Police Bureau's North Precinct playing the national anthem on a speaker he was wheeling around on a cart when the PPB pepper-sprayed him, according to the tort claim notice he filed.

Henshaw-Plath had been protesting for months, but he says that night was different. Four officers told him to "let go" with no explanation, then tried to pull the cart away from him, along with his $1,200 speaker. When he refused, he says, one PPB officer pepper-sprayed him, causing him to release it. Henshaw-Plath claims he could not see for 45 minutes and had to seek medical attention the following day.

Henshaw-Plath thinks he upset police by playing the national anthem as a soundtrack to their arrests.

"The reason I think that got to them is that it shows the deep contradictions in what they're doing," Henshaw-Plath says. "They never asked my name, they just walked up to someone they didn't know and grabbed my speakers."

Henshaw-Plath says he never got his speaker back. He said it's important to hold police accountable in court during a movement, and that the people in power never like to admit when a protest movement is changing policies because they're afraid it will lead to more changes.

The Portland Police Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Various lawyers are jointly representing the six protesters: Attorneys Juan Chavez and Franz Bruggemeier are with the Oregon Justice Resource Center; attorney Jane Moisan is with the People's Law Project; and attorney Alan Kessler runs his own practice.

In a press release, Chavez stated that Portlanders are holding the PPB accountable for their actions on the streets.

"George Floyd's murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer resonated here in Portland because Portlanders too have been brutalized by the Portland Police Bureau," Chavez says in the press release, "As these cases show, in response to their demands, Portlanders have been met with criminal acts committed by the Portland Police Bureau ranging from theft, assault to attempted murder."

One protester is determined to showcase what he calls abuse by the state.

"The way we as citizens in this system have to counter this is through the legal system and the courts," Henshaw-Plath says. "To do that you need cases that show an example of what's going on in a clear way so that we can set precedent."

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