PORTLAND — Six activists filed lawsuits Thursday against the city of Portland, asserting they were roughed up by police at various protests.
Street activism and public marches are common in the progressive city, and the lawsuits alleging battery note the long history of clashes between police and protesters. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said in court documents that the Portland Police Bureau has become "increasingly militarized" in its tactics.
Five of the six lawsuits seek $10,000 plus attorney fees. The other suit, filed by a retiree who suffered a broken nose, asks for $200,000.
City Attorney Tracy Reeve and a spokesman for Mayor Ted Wheeler said the city does not comment on pending litigation.
The clashes outlined in the lawsuits happened between October 2016 and June 2017, a tense period highlighted by Donald Trump's election, the shooting death of a black teenager by Portland police and the fatal stabbings of two men aboard a light-rail train.
The plaintiffs said protesters exercising their First Amendment rights are generally met by police in riot gear who are too quick to use pepper spray and other crowd-control weapons.
Peggy Zebroski, a 5-foot-1 grandmother who frequently calls for social justice, said she sustained her nose injury in February 2017 while protesting the police shooting of Quanice Hayes. She had carried the banner of "Don't Shoot Portland" into the street — blocking traffic — when confronted by officers on bicycles.
She and others didn't budge from the road until the bike officers were joined by police in riot gear.
"We took to the sidewalk in confusion," said Zebroski, 67. "There, I was abruptly pulled from the curb and slammed into the pavement. As I lay face down on the wet street, an officer quite deliberately kneeled on my head, grinding it into the pavement."
Zebroski was charged with disorderly conduct, interfering with a peace officer and resisting arrest. The charges were later dropped.
Plaintiffs' attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon said they filed the lawsuits in Multnomah County instead of federal court to obtain a quicker resolution.
"We want to send a clear message: Portland police must end its disproportionate response to protests, and commit to using safe and effective tactics of de-escalation," said Mat dos Santos, the ACLU of Oregon legal director.