Civil rights attorneys launched a quartet of legal claims against the Portland Police Bureau this week, urging the bureau to police itself better or face more of the same.
Three lawsuits and one tort claim—which reserves the right to sue—were filed against the city on Monday, October 15 by Attorneys Benjamin Haile and Leah Greenwald, who are working in coordination with another attorney, J. Ashlee Albies, on one of the suits. All four claims had strong First and Fourth Amendment themes.
"The right to engage in free speech without government targeting, discriminatory treatment, or arrest is a fundamental bedrock of democracy. And the suits seek to ensure the protection of our basic constitutional right to free speech," said Greenwald, at a press conference on the steps of the Gus J. Solomon Courthouse at SW 6th and Main.
The suits were supported by the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center (NWCRC), whose executive director, Alejandro Queral, says lawsuits are "the only viable recourse that people in Portland have when they feel their constitutional rights have been violated by police."
The NWCRC has been campaigning for the city's so-called Independent Police Review (IPR) to employ independent attorneys—instead of cops from the Internal Affairs Division—to investigate claims against police officers. Until then, it says, the community can't trust the process.
"It's like the weasel investigating the chicken coop," said Greg Benton, who is suing the city for $50,000 for arresting him at gunpoint and searching his NE Killingsworth apartment last September, based on nothing more than a hunch (for more details on each of the lawsuits, visit blogtown.portlandmercury.com).
Benton didn't bother complaining to the IPR, because he says he has no faith in it, and moved straight to legal action. He feels the cops retaliated against him for asking if they had a warrant to enter his home to look for a shooting victim, after the police received an anonymous call saying the victim was in Benton's apartment block.
"I'm an American citizen," Benton said. "And instead of protecting our rights, the police look for ways to get around them."
Frank Waterhouse is suing the cops for $30,000 for shooting him with a beanbag gun and Tasering him without warning, apparently in retaliation for videotaping their activities. Police Bureau Directive 1051.00 stipulates that officers should warn a victim "if feasible," before Tasering, by shouting, "Taser, Taser, Taser," but no such warning can be heard on Waterhouse's video before it goes black.
Richard Prentice, the man arrested and intimidated in a holding cell in June for putting up posters describing two police officers and a sheriff's deputy as "murderers" ["Thought Police," News, June 28], has filed a tort claim. Prentice wants an apology from the officers and money for violation of his rights.
Ryan Dunn is suing for $30,000 after being arrested for yelling, "We pay your salaries" at the cops during an anti-Bush protest last October. He says the cops retaliated against his expression of free speech, violating his First Amendment rights. Also, they hurt his swearing finger, or "bird."
It is against police bureau policy to comment on pending legal matters.