PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge Tuesday night backed Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s restrictions on the city’s police use of a common tear gas with a 14-day court order banning the agent except when a life is at risk.
U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez’s ruling came following about an hour of argument and watching video evidence of recent protests, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
The nonprofit Don’t Shoot Portland and two protesters on Friday sued the city, seeking to bar the Portland police use of tear gas to disperse large crowds of demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after Minneapolis officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The judge found that protesters who sued “engaged only in peaceful and non-destructive protest,” with no record of criminal activity.
“To the contrary, there is even evidence that some protesters were confronted with tear gas while trying to follow police orders and leave the demonstrations,’’ the judge wrote in a 10-page ruling. ”Given the effects of tear gas, and the potential deadly harm posed by the spread of COVID-19, Plaintiffs have established a strong likelihood that Defendant engaged in excessive force contrary to the Fourth Amendment.’’
Hernandez ruled that the protesters who sued demonstrated a threat of immediate, irreparable harm in the absence of a temporary court order, showed they were likely to succeed on their claim of excessive force by police and also raised a serious question as to whether their free speech rights were violated.
City attorneys had countered that the mayor on Saturday already limited the Police Bureau’s use of tear gas, directing that police not use it “unless there is a serious and immediate threat to life safety’’ with no other viable alternative available for dispersing violent demonstrators.
By issuing a 14-day temporary restraining order, the plaintiffs will be able to return to court to report any violations.
Protests continued in Portland Wednesday evening with people calling for dramatic action to drastically reduce the size of the city’s police force and invest that money in education, jobs, housing and health care programs for people of color. An afternoon rally outside City Hall attracted more than 1,000 people, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Smaller demonstrations also took place, including a skateboarding protest and a bike ride.