PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Despite months of daily protests marked by the copious tear gas and rubber bullets, and a court order limiting “less lethal” weapons, Portland police haven’t had a training on the weapons in almost a year, police commanders testified on Thursday.
Protesters clashed with police on Thursday — this time inside the courthouse where they have often faced off during nearly five straight months of protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
Over two days of testimony, witnesses and attorneys argued over when police should be allowed to use violence as a crowd control method — one of the questions at issue in the protests.
City attorneys claimed that the near-daily use of force by police against protesters doesn't violate a court order to use less-lethal munitions like rubber bullets only in life-threatening situations.
Police justified their use of a multitude of so-called less lethal weapons, like tear gas, pepper spray and paintballs, claiming they only used the weapons when they were facing direct threats of assault from protesters.
But several people the police had shot or gassed testified that they had no such intent and were simply there to voice resistance to police brutality or to document the protests.
Protesters and activist group Don’t Shoot Portland sued the city in June, just one week after protests ignited across the country when Minneapolis police killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Police responded to the protests “with indiscriminate, unchecked, and unconstitutional violence against protesters,” according to the lawsuit. In particular, the plaintiffs objected to the use of tear gas during the Covid-19 pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez signed a temporary restraining order on June 26, ordering police to follow their own rules on using “less lethal” munitions and prohibiting their use against people engaged in passive resistance. Hernandez added that police may only use rubber bullets “when the lives or safety of the public or the police are at risk.”
But the protesters behind the lawsuit claimed police immediately violated the restraining order and asked Hernandez to hold the city in contempt of court.
At this week’s hearing, attorneys for the protesters focused on a June 30 action outside the police union building in North Portland, as a “snapshot” of the type of violations they said were ongoing and escalating over time — and as a night that was well-documented by video footage.
“We believe the city has been violating this court’s order since the day the court issued it on June 26,” attorney Franz Bruggemeier told Judge Hernandez, “but we didn’t think the court wanted to have a three-week hearing where we go through four months of ongoing and fairly brutal violations.”
Portland Police Captain Anthony Passadore testified on Wednesday that he read Hernanzez’ temporary restraining order aloud over a radio frequency heard by all officers on duty that night.
But Zachary Domka, a lead trainer for the Portland Police Bureau and assistant squad leader for the rapid response teams that often face off with protesters, said Thursday that Portland police haven’t had training on the use of less lethal weapons since last November.
And Officer Brett Taylor said he fired between 40 to 60 rounds on June 30 from his FN303 — a type of grenade launcher that he uses to shoot rubber bullets, paintballs and munitions containing pepper powder. Taylor said one of the main reasons he fired shots that night was out of fear that protesters might toss the very weapons police had deployed back at the cops.
“I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to have dozens of these canisters thrown at me,” Taylor said, referring to a tear gas canister. “They’re heavy, they’re extremely hot, they’re a great danger.”