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ACLU Sues Portland Police for Brutalizing Protest Observers

— July 1, 2020

The ACLU says Portland police knowingly used tear gas and pepper spray on journalists and legal observers.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against the city of Portland, claiming its police have mistreated and abused protest observers. reports that the lawsuit was filed Sunday by the ACLU of Oregon and San Francisco-based law firm Braunhagey & Borden. The complaint was filed “on behalf of journalists and legal observers who were targeted and attacked by the police while documenting protests in Portland over the killing of George Floyd.”

“The police should not be shutting down the public’s access to the messages and realities in Portland’s streets, where people are calling for an end to police killing of black people,” said Kelly Simon, the ACLU of Oregon’s interim legal director.

“Police in Portland are making a mockery of the First Amendment by targeting journalists, using excessive force, and by using indiscriminate crowd control weapons,” she said. “Police actions have had a chilling effect on the media and protesters.”

According to, the plaintiffs include journalist Tuck Woodstock, along with photojournalists John Rudoff, Mathiew Lewis-Rolland and Sam Gehrke. Two legal observers—Doug Brown and Kat Mahoney—are included, too.

Prone protesters blocking a bridge in Portland, OR. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Henryodell. (CCA-BY-4.0).

Legal observers, notes OregonLive, simply observe and record encounters between protesters and police for future review.

The ACLU says that the plaintiffs, along with other observers not currently listed on the suit, were targeted by Portland police. In some cases, they were subjected to crowd-suppressant measures, including rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, and flashbang grenades.

Several journalists and legal observers reported that they had been beaten by police.

Beth Nakamura, from, said she was “slammed from behind” by a police officer wielding a baton in mid-June.

“She had her hands up, press pass in hand, and was saying, ‘press, press,’” the lawsuit states. “The officer responded: ‘I don’t give a fuck.’”

Lewis-Rolland told KGW8 that he felt attending the protest was necessary, given its scope and wide-ranging implications.

“I felt it to be my civic duty to use my skills and equipment to document this important moment in history,” he said. “I was horrified and bewildered by what I witnessed.”

Mahoney, adds KGW8, is a Portland-area attorney and ACLU volunteer. She says she was wearing an ACLU of Oregon “legal observer vest,” yet was still targeted with tear gas and hit with a rubber bullet.

“These protesters are there to say Black Lives Matter, and to end police brutality targeting people of color based on the color of their skin,” she said. “It is ridiculous that protesters of police brutality are then subject to police brutality.”

Representatives for the city of Portland told numerous media outlets covering the lawsuit that they do not comment on pending litigation.


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