Like a recurring bad dream, Lieutenant Mark Kruger is once again a defendant in a police brutality lawsuit.
In April, the city paid out nearly $1 million in damages and attorney fees after Kruger and several other Portland police allegedly beat up and pepper sprayed anti-war protesters in 2002. This time around, Kruger allegedly grabbed an otherwise peaceful protester at a 2003 anti-Bush rally and dragged her 15 feet by the hair. The plaintiff, Amber Hicks, is seeking an undisclosed amount of monetary damages.
But the way that Kruger tells the story, it was no big deal. He followed protocol and arrested a protester for stepping out of bounds and into the street.
During a two-hour taped deposition obtained by the Mercury, Kruger barely acknowledges the victim, even though she is sitting a few feet away during the taping of the interview. When asked about the difference between their sizes—with the implication that Kruger clearly did not need to resort to overt physical force—the six-foot, four-inch, 215-pound police officer barely glances at Hicks, who is only five-foot, one-and-a-half inches tall.
"I haven't really thought about it," he said.
But the problem for Kruger—and for that matter, the police bureau and city—is that an eight-second video shot by an activist tells a very different story.
The incident in question dates back two years ago, when President Bush visited the University of Portland for a fundraiser. After the demonstration, about 300 protesters milled around Columbia Annex Park in North Portland.
Kruger claims Hicks had twice entered the street, apparently stepping out of bounds from the designated area for protesters. During the deposition, with the camera trained on Kruger, he sits, slumped slightly and casually answering questions. He says he was simply following the training and protocol of the police bureau.
"My actions are driven by procedure," he explains. "Sometimes a great deal of control is necessary to bring control."
But the video taken during the arrest tells a different, brutal story: The clip begins by showing protesters moving through the park. The mood is subdued. There is no shouting. Suddenly, in the far edge of the frame, there is a blur of activity as Kruger approaches with hammering footsteps. In the deposition, Kruger admits he had to travel at least 50 feet, working his way through people, to reach Hicks.
Meanwhile, as Kruger and his posse blitz the crowd, the camera pans and captures Hicks in its frame just a half-second before Kruger reaches her. She is strolling casually, neither hurrying or going in any particular direction. She is in the middle of the park, nowhere near the street.
In a blink, Kruger approaches from her flank and, giving no verbal warning, grabs her arm and begins rapidly pulling her from the park, back toward the road. In the confusion, Kruger switches from dragging her by the arm to dragging her by the hair. When he reaches the curb, officers circle around as he pins back her arms. Hicks is not struggling. At least one officer stands with a baton pulled, ready to fight back.
It is not a video clip that will sit well with a jury.
Over the past three years, much has been written about Kruger. Recently, the Willamette Week ran a picture of him with a swastika pinned to his cap. And, in February 2004, Mercury readers nominated Kruger as Portland's "Most Rotten Cop."
But the deposition goes much further than providing insights into Kruger's actions; it shines light into the city's police bureau. At one point, Hicks' attorney asks about another lawsuit in which Kruger was accused of pepper spraying peaceful anti-war protesters. In response, Kruger says he never received any sort of reprimand for his actions. This is a far cry from the claims of the police bureau, who say they have responded to citizen complaints about heavy-handedness with "better training" and "more accountability."
Later in the deposition, Kruger provided another startling insight. He explained that before the August 2003 protest, officers were provided with photographs of activists that they should keep an eye on.
During the deposition, Hicks' attorney tried—and ultimately failed—to establish that Kruger was aware that Hicks was a local activist and had singled her out.
The lawsuit could drag on for months, if the city doesn't settle first.