The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed six lawsuits against the Portland Police Bureau on Thursday alleging police brutality against protesters in a handful of demonstrations last year.
The lawsuits involve clashes between protesters and police at several demonstrations held since late 2016, including a protest at City Hall opposing the new police union contract, a post-election protest in November 2016, last year's Feb. 20 "Not My Presidents Day" protest, and at a counter-protest to a Patriot Prayer demonstration last June.
"The PPB has become increasingly militarized in its tactics, deploying droves of officers wearing tactical dress, including helmets, carrying batons, and full-body riot shields ('riot gear'), and using chemical agents as crowd-control weapons," the lawsuits say.
A police spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. The bureau does not comment on pending lawsuits.
The suits' named plaintiffs allege the Portland police officers improperly used force to subdue or detain them and in some cases used force after they had already been detained.
The lawsuits say police knocked protesters to the ground without warning, singled out a protester and struck her multiple times with a baton without explanation, pepper sprayed a man who was already restrained by two officers, and hit a protester who had already been handcuffed.
The ACLU is filing video and photographs of the incidents, including pictures of some of the protesters' injuries. Kelly Simon had a four-inch bruise on her leg after police fired an "impact munition" at her even though she was wearing a blue ACLU legal observer vest. Peggy Zebroski's nose was broken after police tackled her to the ground. (Zebroski's injury, suffered at the "Not My President's Day" protest, became iconic when an Oregonian photographer captured a shot of the grandmother's face bleeding.)
The lawsuits come after more than a year of controversy surrounding the city's approach to policing public demonstrations. Violent protests left storefronts smashed in the Pearl District and protesters grew increasingly bold and confrontational. But sometimes the police outnumbered the protesters and many have accused officers of using force on peaceful protesters.
In November, the ACLU sued Portland Police for its tactics at the June 4 protest last year where officers kettled protesters into a barricade and wouldn't let them leave the area until the police photographed their IDs.
The ACLU says it filed the six new suits in the Multnomah County Circuit Court instead of federal court because it is hoping a state judge will make a determination in the cases more quickly.
"Instead of filing federal constitutional claims which can take years to resolve, we are filing a coordinated series of lawsuits in state court," says ACLU spokeswoman Sarah Armstrong. "We believe at this point, for this kind of case, pursuing state claims is a more effective way for these people to get justice. It is our hope that these lawsuits send a clear message to the City of Portland: The time for change is now."