The first civil lawsuit alleging that Portland police used excessive force against a racial justice protester in 2020 opened Tuesday before a Multnomah County Circuit Court jury.
Civil rights attorneys are watching closely because the result could answer questions about the city’s possible liability in similar cases, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
After the police killing of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis in late May 2020, clashes erupted nightly between racial justice protesters and Portland Police Department and federal law enforcement officers from the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Marshals Service.
Erin Wenzel claims she was following police orders on Aug. 14, 2020, when an officer “ran up to her and severely hit her with a club.”
According to her lament, the force lifted her off the ground and she landed on her face. Wenzel, in her suit, says she got up and tried to walk on, but another police officer hit her and a third knocked her down.
Wenzel broke her arm and sustained injuries to her wrist, face and upper body, her lawsuit states. Wenzel’s complaint alleges the city failed to discipline Rapid Response Team officers it knew to be violent and encouraged officers to continue violence against protesters.
Wenzel is demanding $500,000 in damages.
In her response to the complaint, William Manlove, a Portland city attorney, said protesters, including Wenzel, wore protective gear such as gas masks and helmets.
In court filings, city attorneys say police tried to prevent protesters from reaching the Portland Police Association headquarters, where break-ins and fire damage had occurred during previous demonstrations. The police declared an unlawful gathering and over a loudspeaker ordered the crowd to disperse.
The city argues that “to the extent that a city employee had physical contact with the plaintiff, that contact was warranted and privileged because it was reasonable and necessary to carry out those employees’ law enforcement duties.”
The trial is expected to last until October 3.