PORTLAND – The estate of the man fatally shot in downtown Portland after a pro-Trump car rally last year is suing the city of Portland, the mayor and the county district attorney, claiming their alleged negligence contributed to his violent death.
The suit, filed Friday in federal court in Portland, contends a “hands-off approach” to political demonstrations and counter-protests in Portland fostered a “culture of vigilante policing” between opposing factions that filled the void and led to the killing of Aaron “Jay” Danielson on Aug. 29, 2020,
It seeks $13 million in damages – $1.5 million in economic damages, $1.5 million in noneconomic damages and up to $10 million in punitive damages.
“We are seeking justice for the preventable death of a young man, gunned down in a city with a dangerous and deadly hands-off approach to public safety. Time and time again, City leadership and law enforcement have failed to find an effective response to clashing groups of protesters,” Christopher L. Cauble, the estate’s attorney, said in a statement. City Attorney Robert Taylor declined comment .
The Danielson estate also accused Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt of playing a role by broadcasting last summer that he had adopted a new policy and generally wouldn’t pursue what he considered public order crimes such as criminal mischief, interfering with an officer or a stand-alone riot charge, and instead would focus on deliberate property damage and threats of force or actual force against others.
Schmidt’s office didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
Michael Reinoehl, a self-described anti-fascist who said he provided security for racial justice protests in Portland, appeared to have targeted Danielson, according to surveillance camera video of the shooting released by police. Reinoehl, 48, emerged from an alcove of a downtown parking garage before firing two gunshots as Danielson was walking in downtown after the rally, according to a police affidavit.
The suit says Danielson deployed bear spray at Reinoehl in defense simultaneous to the gunshots.
Danielson, 39, was pronounced dead at 8:55 p.m. on Southwest Third Avenue about 10 minutes after the shooting was reported. He died from a single bullet to the upper-right chest, an autopsy found.
Danielson had been with his friend Chandler Pappas and both were wearing Patriot Prayer hats, signifying their support of the right-wing group based in Vancouver, Washington.
Reinoehl was shot and killed days later outside a Washington apartment complex when officers from a multiagency federal task force moved in to try to arrest him on a Multnomah County warrant charging him with second-degree murder and unlawful use of a firearm in Danielson’s fatal shooting.
The suit alleges that officers from the Rapid Response Team, the Police Bureau’s specialized crowd control unit, were less than a two-block radius from the shooting but were following orders not to get involved that day between dueling demonstrators.
“Given the enormity of the press coverage over the past several years regarding clashes between left- and right-leaning protest groups in the downtown core of Portland, Defendants knew or should have known that violent clashes would occur,” Cauble wrote in the suit.
Police had warned residents via Twitter that a political rally was headed to downtown Portland and urged people to avoid the area if possible. A caravan of trucks and cars with pro-Trump flags wound through downtown, with some fistfights breaking out and chemical spray flying between people passing in the vehicles and others protesting on the street.
At the time of the shooting, the car rally had largely left downtown and crowds mostly had cleared.
Portland police said in a statement that day that officers “tried to respond to disturbances as quickly as possible to restore order, prevent violence and keep traffic moving.” But police said it was difficult to do so in part because skirmishes were also happening on the east side of the river. Officers arrested 10 people throughout the night connected to the confrontations, most accused of disorderly conduct.
The suit noted brawls a week earlier in downtown between opposing demonstrators with bats, smoke bombs, shields and bear spray outside the Justice Center with no police intervention.
The city and the mayor “fostered an environment in which demonstrators on both sides could reasonably anticipate a skeletal and passive police presence on the weekend of August 29, 2020,” the suit said.
The city and police failed “to divert the caravan of right-leaning demonstrators” away from downtown and then failed to separate the feuding demonstrators that resulted, the suit said.
The suit follows a reversal this week from Mayor Ted Wheeler, who at first praised police and then said their hands-off approach last month during a violent political skirmish in Northeast Portland “was not the right strategy.”