Portland Shells Out Big Money to Settle Legal Claims, Mostly for Police Actions

Police-related claims accounted for nearly 81% of the city’s total payouts.

The city of Portland paid out more than $2.9 million in cash settlements in the first half of 2021 to nearly 130 people who sued or threatened to sue.

The payout figures—released by the Office of Management and Finance in response to a public records request by WW—show that the vast majority of the $2,953,716 in settlement money was paid to citizens who filed claims against the Portland Police Bureau.

Police-related claims accounted for nearly 81% of the city’s total payouts: $2,384,402 to 18 different claimants between January and July. That’s an unusually high figure compared with other bureaus: The Portland Bureau of Transportation, for example, tallied the second-highest settlement total, $269,802—about one-tenth of what was paid out by the Police Bureau.

The PPB figure is skewed by a single payout: In March, the Portland City Council unanimously approved a $2.1 million settlement for the family of 17-year-old Quanice Hayes, whom Officer Andrew Hearst shot and killed with an AR-15 rifle in February 2017.

But even without the Hayes settlement, the Police Bureau would still rank the highest among bureaus, accounting for nearly $290,000 in cash settlements. And the data WW received doesn’t include a $600,000 settlement approved July 21 for the family of 24-year-old Terrell Johnson, whom Officer Samson Ajir shot and killed at a MAX station in 2017.

Those are two of the eight largest settlements the city shelled out for police use of force since 1993, according to figures compiled by Portland Copwatch. The City Council must approve settlements above $5,000.

Juan C. Chavez, a lawyer with the Oregon Justice Resource Center who represented the Johnson family, says the city’s willingness to settle the Hayes case was unusual. “It was not lost on many of us that most of the commissioners seemed horrified by the specifics of the case,” he tells WW.

Claims against the Police Bureau included one other six-figure payout: On June 23, the City Council voted unanimously to pay $250,000 to a former background investigator for the city who alleged she was sexually harassed and discriminated and retaliated against by a then-Portland police officer named Robert Bruders. He had been reassigned to the bureau’s personnel division because, in 2011, he and two other officers beat a man in a parking garage.

The large police settlements are outliers compared with the rest of Portland’s payouts this year. Citywide, the most common amount was $5,000, and the median amount hovered near $1,500.

So what kind of headaches does the city pay to make disappear?

Car crashes, mostly. More than half of the Police Bureau-related payouts resulted from vehicle collisions. That category includes the third-largest PPB-related payout this year—$11,761—after an officer “struck [the claimant’s] building with police vehicle.”

So far this year, the city also paid out three settlements related to protests, including $5,000 to a claimant who alleged an officer used excessive force during a 2016 protest; $624 to an individual who claimed to have suffered injuries “after being struck by projectiles launched by PPB officers” on June 2, 2020; and $500 to a claimant who “alleges police teargassed protesters outside their house; gas infiltrated their home, damaged property and caused them to move” during an August 2020 protest.

And in April, the city paid $147.50 to a property owner who claimed officers damaged a fence while “chasing/capturing” a suspect.

Other bureaus paid their share of settlements this year, too: In February, following a claim against PBOT, the city paid $25,000 to a claimant who had “trip[ped] and fall[en] on tree roots under asphalt.” It paid nearly $2,500 last month to someone who claimed he suffered injuries after getting rear-ended by a Portland Streetcar. And it paid $11.38 to settle a claim against the Water Bureau for water bottles purchased for three days due to “water quality issues.”