By Nigel Duara
PORTLAND, Ore. — A photograph of an Occupy Portland demonstrator blasted with pepper spray as she opened her mouth to shout at a police officer became a defining image of the monthlong encampment.
Now, the woman in the photograph is in court to seek $155,000 in damages from the city of Portland, the officer who sprayed her and another she said put a baton to her throat.
Jury selection in a lawsuit filed by Elizabeth Evon Nichols began Tuesday. The trial will address whether Sgt. Jeffrey McDaniel's use of pepper spray was within bureau policy, and whether the officers' actions were reasonable.
The officers' defense team responded to the suit by saying Nichols was menacing the officers, and they reacted appropriately.
Nichols "actively, physically resisted lawful police instructions to move off of the sidewalk," the attorneys wrote in a motion. They said Nichols "aggressively moved as if to attack" the officers, whose actions were reasonable under the circumstances.
Nichols was among thousands of protesters who gathered in Portland on Nov. 17, 2011, in a demonstration against foreclosures by major banks. Protesters lined sidewalks as police vehicles warned them to stay off the pavement. Nichols was among several people who shouted at police from the sidewalk.
She said in the lawsuit that police officer Doris Paisley held a baton to her throat. When she protested, the lawsuit states, McDaniel sprayed her open mouth with pepper spray.
Nichols "was so overcome by pain that she flinched and spun away from (McDaniel)," according to the lawsuit. "She hunched over with her hands on her face. After a moment she felt her legs collapsing and sat down on the sidewalk."
Nichols said Paisley dragged her by her hair to a different spot where she was charged.
Last year, Nichols was convicted in Multnomah County Circuit Court of interfering with police officers. She was ordered to pay $130.
Now 22, Nichols says in the suit that officers McDaniel and Paisley violated her right to free speech and impeded her right to freedom from unreasonable seizure with excessive force.
Oregonian photographer Randy Rasmussen took a photograph of Nichols at the moment when she was pepper-sprayed. The photo played on newspaper front pages and won a National Headliner award.
The incident occurred a week after the Occupy Portland camp downtown was broken up by police. The Portland camp had lasted a little more than a month, before it was ordered closed because of deteriorating sanitary conditions.
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Copyright 2013 Associated Press