Venus Hayes talks to reporters outside of the Multnomah County Justice Center.
Venus Hayes talks to reporters outside of the Multnomah County Justice Center. DOUG BROWN

Following community outcry, the City of Portland has withdrawn a controversial legal argument used to defend the city in a civil rights lawsuit. The specific argument accused the mother of Quanice Hayes, a 17-year-old African American fatally shot by a Portland police officer in 2017, for her son's death.

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In a February 26 court hearing, City Attorney William Manlove argued that Quanice's mother, Venus Hayes, was partially to blame for her son's death because she failed to "reasonably supervise and monitor Quanice Hayes' behavior." Manlove was responding to a federal lawsuit filed by Venus and other family members in 2018, which accuses the city of failing to train Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers who are interacting with suspects they believe to be armed (Quanice was allegedly carrying a fake gun at the time of his death).

Manlove argued that, because Venus had admitted that her teenage son had been acting out before his death, it's reasonable to assume Venus "could foresee he would go out and commit these crimes."

On Thursday, Manlove submitted a document to the court that formally withdrew this specific argument from the city's legal defense in this case. This means that—if and when the case goes to trial—city attorneys won't be allowed to rely on this argument.

This backpedal comes exactly one week after several city council candidates sent a joint letter to the city in which they asked the city attorney's office to remove this and other legal arguments in the Hayes' case.

In their letter, candidates call the city's victim blaming "disgusting, oppressive, and polarizing ... only serving the interest of creating deeper rifts between vulnerable communities and the city that is meant to serve them."

The city, however, is still accusing Quanice of being responsible for his own death.

City attorneys have argued that, because Hayes slept poorly, carried a fake weapon, and committed crimes before his encounter with the police, the fatal shooting was justified.

"The death of Quanice Hayes was the sole and exclusive fault of Mr. Hayes," reads the city's Noember 2019 court filing. "Plaintiffs’ injuries and resulting damages, if any, were caused, in whole or substantial part, by Quanice Hayes’ own criminal, reckless and negligent actions."