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ACLU sues Portland police, Mayor Ted Wheeler over June 4 protest tactics

Jenny Nickolaus, horrified by the stabbing of three people aboard a MAX train during a racist rant a week earlier, showed up at Portland City Hall on June 4 wanting to make her voice heard.

Nickolaus was part of the Portland Stands United Against Hate protest, one of three demonstrations organized to counter a pro-President Trump rally also held downtown that day.

Before that Sunday was over, Portland police would pepper spray Nickolaus, her husband, friends and relatives and then, as an apparent crowd-control technique, herd them and many others into a parking garage stairwell, Nickolaus said Wednesday.

“It was frightening,” she said.

Nickolaus appeared at a news conference where the ACLU of Oregon announced it had filed a federal court lawsuit against the city of Portland, Mayor Ted Wheeler, the Portland Police Bureau and others, accusing them of violating free speech rights with what the ACLU contends are overly aggressive tactics.

The ACLU filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of what it said were 200 to 250 protesters who police illegally corralled and detained – a practice called a “kettle” — at the protest. The lawsuit names Nickolaus, her husband Chris Whaley and three others as people detained in the kettle.

Wheeler spokesman Michael Cox declined to comment.

Sgt. Chris Burley, spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau, said it does not comment on pending or current litigation.

The pro-Trump “free speech” rally organized by Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson of Vancouver and the three counter-protests co-existed peacefully for about four hours, said Mat dos Santos, ACLU-Oregon legal director. Police kept the right-wing demonstrators and the three other groups – Portland Stands United, labor unions and Rose City Antifa — separated.

“But things took a dangerous turn as police deployed flashbang grenades, chemical irritants and so-called less-lethal bullets at the antifascist gathering,” dos Santos said at the news conference held in the ACLU’s downtown office.

“While we understand that policing is no easy task, the pattern in Portland is clear. After a rock, stick or liquid is thrown, Portland protests regularly devolve into chaotic scenes involving the indiscriminate use of force and crowd control weapons.”

The lawsuit accuses Wheeler, who serves as police commissioner, of ordering the corralling and detaining of protesters as he oversaw operations from the Police Bureau’s command center.

Those orders followed officers’ orders for people to disperse from Southwest Fourth Avenue and Morrison Street, yet surrounding them to prevent them from leaving the area, the lawsuit says.

When some people tried to leave through a parking garage on Fourth Avenue, police officers shot them with pepper-spray balls, the lawsuit says.

“By that point, if not before, it was clear to (counter-protesters) that they were not free to leave the kettle,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also accuses Wheeler of personally ordering police to not allow people to leave the cordoned area until officers photographed them.

Before ordering people to line up and present identification, officers announced to the people that they’d been “detained for purposes of investigation of disorderly conduct,” the lawsuit says.

(Two days after the protest, Wheeler sent a letter to then-Police Chief Mike Marshman asking for an explanation of police tactics used during the protests, including questions about people protesting peacefully yet being subject to “crowd control devices.”)

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial, unspecified monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.

–Allan Brettman

abrettman@oregonian.com

503-294-5900

@allanbrettman

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