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Judge Finds Portland Police In Contempt For Using Less-Lethal Weapons Against Rioters

Portland, OR – A federal judge has determined Portland police used less-lethal weapons inappropriately three times as they were being attacked by rioters on June 30.

U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez ordered on June 9 that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) would be banned from using CS gas against rioters unless a violent mob’s antics were placing lives in danger, KATV reported.

Hernandez further restricted officers’ use of less-lethal munitions on June 26.

The orders were the result of a class-action lawsuit filed by Don’t Shoot PDX earlier in the month, KATV reported.

The group further alleged that PPB officers violated Hernandez’s June 26 ruling nine times during clashes with demonstrators on June 30.

The nightly riots had been raging in downtown Portland for a solid month by the time the events of that night unfolded.

Hundreds of rioters marched through the streets, blocking traffic and hurling projectiles at officers as they made their way to the oft-targeted Portland Police Association (PPA) office, the PPB said in a press release at the time.

The mob threw water bottles and “baseball-sized” rocks at police standing outside the PPA, and shined green lasers into their eyes, according to the department.

The PPB used a sound truck to declare the gathering an unlawful assembly just after 9 p.m.

“The demonstrators were told if they did not obey the lawful order and begin to disperse, they could be subject to arrest or use of force to include crowd control munitions,” the department said. “Despite the admonishment, demonstrators continued to block traffic on North Lombard Street and throw projectiles at officers who were in front of the Portland Police Association office.”

Rioters continued hurling full cans and various other projectiles at police.

“The large baseball sized rocks hit several officers which required medical attention,” according to the PPB.

The gathering was declared a riot after the mob started lighting commercial-grade fireworks and throwing them at police just before 10:15 p.m.

The crowd ignited multiple dumpster fires and trashed property throughout the downtown area as officers struggled to disperse them and fend off their attacks.

A total of five officers were injured and least 29 rioters were arrested during the overnight mayhem, according to the PPB.

“We have experienced weeks of demonstrations that have turned into almost nightly unlawful assemblies, civil disturbances and riots,” PPB Chief Chuck Lovell said in a press release at the time. “We have had law enforcement facilities and personnel targeted with violence, including the barricading and burning of an occupied police facility on more than one occasion.”

“Last night, another march occurred, this time in a residential neighborhood where many families were at home and some were likely sleeping,” Chief Lovell continued. “Some have said we are only protecting an empty building and the force used was excessive. My response to that is we would have seen one building lit on fire in a neighborhood where a commercial building fire could have led to residences being burned with families inside.”

Chief Lovell said that protecting lives is the department’s first priority.

“We are determined to protect our community,” he said. “This is bigger than property; it is about human lives.”

In the lawsuit filed by Don’t Shoot PDX, the group alleged that officers violated Hernandez’s less-lethal munitions restrictions nine times on June 30, KATV reported.

In his Nov. 27 ruling, the judge said police violated the restrictions in three of the instances mentioned in the lawsuit.

Hernandez determined PPB Officer Brent Taylor violated the order by firing less-lethal rounds at rioters who were carrying a banner, as well as for firing less-lethal rounds at someone who was trying to pull an individual away from police, KATV reported.

The PPB argued that banners can become a safety hazard for officers trying to disperse violent mobs.

The department further noted that the individual hit with the less-lethal round while trying to pull someone away from police was actually attempting to aid the escape of someone police were trying to arrest, KATV reported.

Hernandez dismissed the PPB’s account, and said video evidence proved they weren’t trying to arrest anyone at the time.

The third incident in which the judge determined the PPB violated the less-lethal munition restrictions involved an officer firing a less-lethal round at a rioter who was trying to grab an object off of the ground, KATV reported.

Police said they were concerned the suspect was planning to throw the object at them, but Hernandez ruled the officer acted too hastily and wasn’t facing a threat when the less-lethal round was fired.

“The individual moved slowly and was struck by a munition before they even had the object in their hands,” the judge reasoned.

Hernandez ruled that police were justified in using less-lethal munitions in the other six incidents Don’t Shoot PDX complained about in the lawsuit, KATV reported.

“Throwing items at police and starting fires at a protest reasonably constitute a threat or an overt act of assault and create a risk of injury to officers or others without intervention,” he wrote. “Thus, in the moments that they deployed impact munitions, officers reasonably perceived that these individuals were engaged in active aggression.”

Jessica Ashlee Albies, one of the group’s attorneys, said the ruling was a win, KATV reported.

“We are pleased the judge found what we already knew, that PPB has violated peoples’ rights and used excessive force against those protesting police brutality and in defense of Black lives,” Albies declared on Monday night. “We look forward to holding them accountable.”

The rioting has continued on a near-nightly basis over the course of the past six months.

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Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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