Oregon BLM Briefs: Lawsuits, Investigations, Suspensions

The murder of George Floyd—a Black man who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes—has sparked a wave of public protests and demands for police reform across the nation for the past several weeks.  

As this movement continues to gather, so too are reports of abuse and misconduct by law enforcement officers and elected officials across the state of Oregon. Here is a roundup of some incidents that came to light this week  

Clackamas County Deputies Suit Alleges Police Brutality 

A lawsuit filed on Wednesday alleges that Ka’Mar Benbo—an African American child—was the victim of police violence after Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office deputies knelt on the then 12-year-old’s neck during an arrest in August of 2019, according to a recent OPB report. 

Deputies were responding to a call about a group of teenagers involved in a fight. Attorneys representing Benbo say he was leaving the Clackamas Town Center mall with friends when he was grabbed and taken to the ground by several deputies.  

The civil lawsuit names five officers as defendants, charges the officers with battery, and asks for $300,000.  

In a statement, Sheriff Craig Roberts notes the incident was investigated by the sheriff’s office last year and they did not find evidence that a deputy placed a knee on Benbo’s neck.  

Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote told OPB his office is currently reviewing the incident. 

“What the world is seeing now, is what African-Americans have always known,” Benbo’s attorney Jason Kafoury wrote in an email. “It didn’t start with a knee to the neck of George Floyd. The police here were aggressive and abusive to a 12-year-old child; that’s why if there is ever to be police reform, the time is now.” 

Another Protester Files Lawsuit against City of Portland 

Saying police broke her wrist, Dominique Bouchard is the 9th protestor to file a lawsuit against the city of Portland in the wake of protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, according to a recent Oregonian report 

A student at Portland Community College, Bouchard claims she was nonviolently protesting in downtown Portland on June 5th when police shot her in the leg with a rubber bullet and then body-slammed her to the ground as she was exiting the area after police demanded that the demonstrators disband.  

According to her lawsuit the impact fractured her wrist—necessitating surgery and the placement of metal hardware.  

Mayor of Phoenix, Oregon Under Investigation 

Chris Luz—the mayor of Phoenix, Oregon—is under investigation for allegedly striking a woman with his car during a Black Lives Matter protest in Medford on June 1, according to a recent Oregonian report 

A video of the incident was captured by a bystander. 

Makayla Johnston, who confronted the mayor directly at a commission meeting last week, recalled noticing a car coming at her “at a less than comfortable speed” during the demonstration. 

“He then proceeds to drive his car right past me, hitting me with the front left of his vehicle and again with the side view mirror,” Johnston said at the meeting. “I couldn’t believe this man would avoid slightly turning his wheel to not hit me. He then proceeded to try to drive through a crowd of peaceful protesters.” 

At least one council member concurred with Johnston’s ensuing claim that Luz was unfit to lead the city. 

 “I can’t believe the actions that you took, nudging teenagers with your car, intimidating, and threatening them for expressing their opinions,” said Councilor Sarah Westover. “I think this is unacceptable behavior, and I want to call on the mayor to resign tonight.” 

Medford police told the Washington Post that it had initiated an investigation into the incident. 

Warrenton Officer Investigated, Allegedly Mocked George Floyd Death at a Bar 

After allegedly mocking the murder of George Floyd at a sports bar while off duty, a white Warrenton police officer has been placed on administrative leave while the incident is investigated, according to a recent report by the Daily Astorian.   

The Facebook post that prompted the investigation describes officer Robert Wirt and his “buddies at the bar poking fun at George Floyd yelling, ‘I can’t breathe,’ while one holds his forearm on his neck.” 

After hearing about the incident the city decided to place Wirt on administrative leave and will hire an independent investigator to conduct a probe. 

Warrenton Police Chief Mathew Workman comments “I think it goes without saying that I hold my officers to a high standard and we investigate any allegations of misconduct both on and off duty. And if something does happen and we figure it’s founded and that it did happen then we hold people accountable.” 

By JD Brookbank