WHAT BEGAN the night of June 10 as a traffic stop for a missing bike light ended in Tasering—and a cyclist's screams, heard a block away.
As Portland Police Bureau Officers Erin Smith and Ron Hoesly were writing out a missing bike light ticket to Diana Spartis on SE 7th and Alder, the police noticed another light-less biker approaching. Officer Smith stepped toward the biker and yelled at him to stop. Then, says Spartis, the officer grabbed the rider—widely known local biker and internet-ordained reverend Phil Sano, AKA Reverend Phil. The two began scuffling.
"Then [the officer] runs him up the sidewalk and slams him into the building," says Spartis. "Within a second of slamming [Sano] into the wall, he began Tasering him."
"It sounded like he was being tortured," recalls John Henry Dale, 31, who heard Sano's screams from a bus stop a block away and ran toward the scene. Halfway down the block Dale heard "loud, sizzling electric noises" from the Taser. By that time, Sano and the witnesses say the officers were holding Sano on the ground, one's knee on his neck, and Sano was screaming.
"He was not necessarily the most acquiescent of detainees," admits Dale. "But it's my sense that these cops were using excessive force."
In Sano's words, "I acted like some jerk knocked me off my bike. I was not certain of who they were until a few seconds after being Tasered for the first time."
According to Officer Smith's report, Smith did not tackle Sano, he "reached out to grab and stop him." In response, Sano "flailed his arms and squared off with the officer." Officer Smith apparently perceived this action as struggling and physically resisting arrest—actions which warrant use of a Taser, according to police spokesman Brian Schmautz.
Eventually, Sano was arrested for resisting arrest, attempted escape, and disorderly conduct. The district attorney decided not to press charges.
Jonathan Maus runs the website BikePortland.org and watched over 200 comments from Portland bikers flare up on his blog post about the incident. "People that know Phil in the community know that he's a real dramatic guy. He's got a history of being over the top, being funny, being loud," explains Maus.
Though Sano has a reputation for being something of a lightning rod for bike controversy in Portland (he rides occasionally with bike rights group Critical Mass and once crafted a bicycle from a police car door), Maus sees Sano's Tasering as part of a widespread problem between Portland police and bikers.
"The unfortunate social and mental baggage these police officers have with Critical Mass could affect how they deal with bikers," says Maus. "Their perception is clouded and they think if you're on a bike, you must be an anarchist or a terrorist or hate cops."
Bike attorney Mark Ginsberg says he is representing Sano and that they are considering all their options in this case.