PORTLAND – A federal judge has found the city of Portland in contempt of his order that limited the use of less-lethal impact munitions during protests.
U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez ruled Monday that police violated his order three times on June 30 as officers declared an unlawful assembly and tried to push protesters away from the police union building, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
The judge’s written ruling followed a hearing in a suit filed against the city by the nonprofit Don’t Shoot Portland. The hearing marked the first time protesters and police, who had faced off over months of racial justice demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, testified in court, providing accounts of the clashes.
The judge will meet with both sides at a future date to determine what, if any, sanctions to issue.
Police quickly moved in on June 30 to push 200 to 250 protesters east, away from the Portland Police Association office. The judge had issued an order prohibiting police from using less-lethal riot guns and launchers and using pepper spray on people engaged in passive resistance. The judge’s June 26 order also urged police to minimize the exposure of pepper spray to people not involved in protests.
“Defendant documents hours of violence, including threats to the safety of police and protesters alike. But despite its efforts to live up to the standards of the Order and exercise restraint in the face of such turmoil, (the Portland Police Bureau) failed,” the judge wrote.
Hernandez specified three incidents that violated his order: Officer Brent Taylor’s firing of five shots from his FN303 launcher at the legs of someone refusing to let go of an “Abolish the Police” banner with a PVC-pipe frame; Taylor’s deployment of 10 rounds from the same type of launcher against two people attempting to pull a person on roller skates away from police; and the firing of a less-lethal launcher by an unidentified officer at a person who tried to pick up an unidentified object from the ground.
“None of the individuals targeted by police in these incidents were engaged in active aggression, and the use of force did not reasonably prevent the use of a higher level of force. All three individuals appear to have been struck by police munitions. The Court cannot conclude that these three violations over an hour-long period were ‘merely technical,’ ” the judge ruled.
Taylor testified that he fired at someone holding onto the banner because he believed the banner would later be used as a weapon.
But the judge noted that nothing suggested the banner was being used as a weapon.
Taylor also testified that he fired 10 rounds because he believed two people were interfering in the arrest of the person on roller skates. But video didn’t support Taylor’s assertions, the judge said.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who serves as police commissioner, thanked the Court for its thoughtful opinion and thanked Police Bureau employees for their service to the city “in these difficult times,” in a statement Tuesday morning.
“I am committed to improving policing in our city,” Wheeler said. “Where the Court found errors we will implement changes. The ruling is another important tool to help us respond to our community’s call for reforms of our public safety system.”
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