Ore. jury denies Occupy protester's police lawsuit
The Oregon jury took four hours to return a verdict saying that the officers did not use excessive force during protests
By Nigel Duara
PORTLAND, Ore. — A seven-person jury has found the city of Portland and two of its police officers not liable for an Occupy Portland protester's injuries.
The Oregon jury took four hours to return a verdict saying that the officers did not use excessive force when one of them struck protester Liz Nichols in the throat with a baton and the other one sprayed her open mouth with pepper spray.
The officers' defense team said in closing arguments that the police were doing their job in a difficult situation during the November 2011 protests.
Despite the loss, Nichols' attorneys say they're happy that the issue has been aired publicly and that attention has been trained on the police reaction to demonstrations.
"We're disappointed with the result," said Ben Haile, one of Nichols' attorneys. "We think this goes to show that a lot more work needs to be done to make sure people are safe when they come downtown to protest."
Kenneth Kreuscher, one of Nichols' attorneys, said the officers went beyond their orders to secure a bank branch during an Occupy Portland protest in November 2011.
Kreuscher said the officers took it upon themselves to do more than secure the bank, and instead, moved to clear an entire sidewalk choked with protesters. Nichols was nearly 50 feet from the bank entrance when she was sprayed, dragged behind a police line and arrested, he said. Police then washed the spray off her face, he said.
Nichols originally sought $155,000, but changed that amount to $30,000.
David Landrum, lead attorney for the city, said the protest was unruly and officers were afraid of violence when they reacted.
"Those officers didn't have a chance to have a committee meeting about it with the incident commander," Landrum said. "And when they're instructed, they go."
Downtown Portland was tense on November 17, 2011. Police had dispersed the 300-person Occupy Portland encampment only weeks before, and the protest was the first major public demonstration since then. Nichols was among thousands to march in downtown and target major banks.
The marches began in the early afternoon. By twilight, they had reached a Chase Bank branch at a busy intersection.
Protesters, including Nichols and several people who testified at trial, sat down in a vestibule that connected the front doors of the bank to the sidewalk. Police asked them to leave and some, including Nichols, moved to the sidewalk.
The protesters lined the sidewalk. Videos used as evidence showed Nichols and others shouting at police, including Portland police Officer Doris Paisley.
Paisley jabbed Nichols high in her chest with a baton, and the baton then struck Nichols' throat, according to video footage. Sgt. Jeffrey McDaniel then sprayed her mouth. A photographer for The Oregonian newspaper captured the moment, which became a defining image of the protest.
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