Downtown Portland Resident Files Legal Claim Against City for Filling Her Apartment With Tear Gas

“It felt like somebody was blowing tear gas in my mouth right to my lungs. It happens so quickly. It was a sensation like I’ve never felt before.”

A Portlander runs from gas on May 30, 2020. (Wesley Lapointe)

Another Portlander is taking legal action against the city for using tear gas. But this citizen isn't a protester—she lives in an apartment above the streets where police deployed gas on demonstrators.

Monique Jefferson, 46, was pouring a glass of water in her kitchen around 8 pm on May 31 when her chest, nose and throat started to burn. Her patio door, in an apartment near the Portland Art Museum, was open so she could hear the sounds of the protests against racist policing that had erupted only a few days before.

As an asthmatic, Jefferson is at risk of respiratory ailments. She says she's been taking every precaution to avoid contracting COVID-19 since mid-March. Then gas drifted into her home.

"It was so scary," Jefferson told WW. "It felt like somebody was blowing tear gas in my mouth right to my lungs. It happens so quickly. It was a sensation like I've never felt before."

On June 24, she filed a claim for damages against the city of Portland.

Her injuries included "ongoing burning in her chest, throat, nose, and caused her ear to ache," according to the letter from her attorney, Michael Fuller. She is seeking $10,000.

In the hours after she tasted gas, Jefferson says she called a hospital, then the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The health agency advised her to shower thoroughly and brush her teeth to get rid of the poison. The burning took about one day to subside, but she says she still experiences side effects.

Jefferson believes the Portland Police Bureau did not consider the effects of gas on people living downtown. "They act like they're disconnected from the community and from mankind," Jefferson said. "They just don't give regard to life."

The Police Bureau declined to comment on pending litigation.

Legal action has already constrained the Police Bureau's use of chemical weapons during protests. Tear gas was a common way to disperse protesters at the beginnings of the uprisings, until June 9 when a federal judge restricted its use for at least 14 days unless a life was at risk. A legal agreement with the Black activist group Don't Shoot Portland has since been extended until July 24. As an alternative, police have used flash-bangs and rubber bullets.

A two-minute video she took of the incident outside her home revealed a familiar scene: tear gas rapidly spreading, protesters running frantically, while police officers sped by in groups giving unclear orders.

Jefferson, who is Black, says protesters are fighting for her and her rights, and sees her claim against the city as a way of returning that support.

"Allies are speaking up for me and my race every single day, and so I have to be a part of that movement," Jefferson said.

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