The Portland Mercury | By Doug Brown
The ACLU of Oregon has repeatedly claimed that the Portland Police Bureau’s heavy-handed tactics at protests over the last year have been unconstitutional. Now, it’s asking a federal jury to agree.
On Wednesday morning, the civil rights group planned to file the first of a handful of lawsuits against the city. All involve controversial strategies the bureau has used to quell the protests that have become commonplace in the Trump era.
The first suit deals with the “kettling” tactic police used on demonstrators at a massive June 4 protest. By surrounding and detaining a large group of protesters and others downtown, and demanding to photograph their IDs, the ACLU believes the PPB violated their constitutional rights.
“They were detained unlawfully, in violation of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights,” ACLU of Oregon Legal Director Mat dos Santos tells the Mercury. “Portland police indiscriminately detained and arrested between 200 and 250 people without meeting the basic constitutional requirements: reasonable suspicion and probable cause.”
In order for a kettle to be constitutional, dos Santos says, police would need to have “individualized reasonable suspicion for every person they detained.”
“If the police detain 50 people, but could articulate reasonable suspicion for every one of those 50 people, that might be constitutional,” he says. “[But] the police can rarely, if ever, articulate individualized reasonable suspicion.”
“If Portland police could detain, at any moment, hundreds of people on any given block in downtown Portland for an investigation of disorderly conduct, we would all be subject to detention all the time,” he said. “That’s what’s known as a police state, and that’s not the state we live in.”
The litigation comes, coincidentally, during the same month that Captain Larry Graham—the PPB’s incident commander on June 4 and at other major recent protests—boasted to an oversight board that the bureau’s crowd management is nationally respected.
“I know Portland’s got a reputation: ‘Oh, Portland police this and that,’” Graham, the top protest cop, told the Citizen Review Committee on November 1. “[But] nationally, they’ve looked at us and they’ve asked us to do national training for national law enforcement. They’re pretty impressed about how we’re able to adapt and change.”
Others are less impressed.
“The ACLU of Oregon has called on Portland police to change their tactics when policing protests, time and time again,” dos Santos says. “This is the first piece of litigation about the way Portland has policed protests. There will be more to come.”