Portland City Council is poised to pay Portlander Aaron Cantu $125,000 this Wednesday to settle a lawsuit accusing the city of using violence to attack protesters' First Amendment rights.
Cantu was one of hundreds of Portlanders who met in downtown Portland on August 4, 2018 to protest a rally organized by Patriot Prayer, a right-wing group based in Vancouver, Washington. It was during this demonstration that officers with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) chose to fire "less-lethal" munitions into a crowd of more than 50 counter-protesters gathered near SW Columbia and Naito.
Cantu was running in the opposite direction of the police when an officer's flash-bang grenade lodged itself into his skull. Cantu was wearing a bike helmet at the time, but the munition was powerful enough to blaze through his helmet and cut into his head. According to the lawsuit Cantu filed against the city, Cantu could have died from the impact if he wasn't wearing the helmet.
Cantu suffered a traumatic brain injury from the incident. Cantu continued to suffer from dizziness, tinnitus, and emotional trauma more than a year after being injured, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed in 2019 on behalf of three protesters injured during the August 4 demonstration, including Cantu. Plaintiff James Mattox, who was hit by an officer's rubber bullet during the event, has already settled with the city, collecting $22,882 in May 2020. Plaintiff Tracey Molina, however, is still actively engaged in the litigation. The lawsuit is temporarily on hold while Molina heads to trial to face federal criminal charges for not following the orders of a federal officer while protesting outside of Portland's Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in May 2021.
Another demonstrator filed a separate lawsuit against the PPB for her injuries during the August 4 clash. Michelle Fawcett was struck by a fiery munition shot by an officer into the crowd, leaving her with searing third-degree chemical burns on her arm and chest. In September 2021, Fawcett agreed to settle the case.
Cantu's settlement payment of $125,000 is the largest received by any August 4 demonstrator who sued PPB. Cantu's co-plaintiff Mattox received $22,000 from the city last year, while Fawcett collected a $50,000 payout. The public dollars to cover the costs come from the city’s insurance and claims fund which, in the current fiscal year, has a budget just over $46 million.
Cantu's legal counsel is expected to give testimony during the Wednesday council meeting. Follow the meeting, which begins at 9:30 am, here.