Portland Protesters Sue City, Accusing Police of Excessive Force

Three antifascist protesters filed suit against the city Monday, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. They accuse city police forces of exhibiting excessive force while arresting them during a counterprotest, resulting in their injuries. They request a jury trial, and claim that the police invalidated their Fourteenth, Fourth and First Amendment rights.

The plaintiffs, Aaron Cantu, James Mattox and Tracy Molin, accuse the Portland Police Bureau of violating their rights by displaying excessive force. The three were arrested at a counterprotest opposite an August 4, 2018 rally in support of Joey Gibson's U.S. Senate campaign. Gibson is the head of Patriot Prayer, a Vancouver-based far-right political group that has attracted white supremacist attention.

Their complaint states that Cantu was struck in the head by a projectile filed by police, which penetrated a bike helmet that he was wearing.

Antifa CounterProtest
Anti-fascist protestors gather as right-wing rally organizer, Patriot Prayer founder and Republican Senate candidate Joey Gibson speaks during a campaign rally for Gibson in Portland, Oregon, August 4, 2018. Thomas Patterson/AFP/Getty

"Eventually, a medic got Mr. Cantu to a hospital," continued the lawsuit. "Mr. Cantu had suffered a traumatic brain injury, likely one that would have been fatal had he not been wearing a bike helmet." It further states that Cantu suffers dizziness and tinnitus from the incident a year after it occurred.

It also claims Molina was wrongfully arrested. She states that she obeyed police requests to move while carrying a sign reading "Hey Racists Stop Making Your Ignorance Our Problem Grow Up or Go Home." Claiming the police grabbed her sign from behind, surprising her, she turned around to hold onto the sign.

"An officer then knocked her to the ground with such force that she fell and rolled into the middle of the street, where a large group of officers dog-piled her in a tackle and arrested her," says the suit.

Molina was then charged with a class-c/unclassified felony, interfering with a police officer and disorderly conduct. She plead not guilty and the case was dismissed in her favor.

Mattox claims that the police fired rubber bullets at him while he was "flipping off the officers and shouting profanities." One of those bullets hit him in the arm and caused a large gash. The suit claims Mattox was retaliated against for exercising his freedom of speech.

Juan Chavez, an attorney affiliated with the Oregon Justice Resource Center who represents both Cantu and Molina, claims that Patriot Prayer members in attendance at the rally refused to follow police orders but police paid more attention to the counter-protesters.

"My clients want change from this department, and an acknowledgement that what happened that day shouldn't have happened," Chavez said. "We have yet to see from the city an acknowledgement that what happened that day was a travesty."

"There's videos of Mr. Gibson walking into the crowd. He crosses the police line into the group of counter-protesters, trying to rile them up," Chavez said. "You didn't see a single police officer trying to stop him from doing that. When other folks were doing that, they were getting detained or they were getting told to go back, but not Mr. Gibson."

A Portland city official told Oregon Public Broadcasting that they cannot comment on pending litigation.