PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — The first of many lawsuits over Portland police officers' handling of protests in 2020 culminated in Multnomah Country Circuit Court on Tuesday, when a jury of 12 awarded volunteer paramedic Erin Wenzel partial damages for the broken arm she suffered at the hands of police.
Wenzel's lawsuit stems from an incident on Aug. 14, 2020, when she and her husband attended a racial justice protest in North Portland. Wenzel attended the event as a volunteer protest paramedic and identified herself as such by wearing a helmet with a red cross. However, once police began dispersing protesters after dusk, the situation turned violent.
While following orders to disperse, Wenzel said an unknown police officer ran at her from behind and slammed her body and face into the ground, breaking her arm and causing other injuries to her face and torso. After she got to her feet, Wenzel said a protester shoved her into a different officer, who struck her leg with a baton and caused her to fall back down.
Wenzel sued the city of Portland in October 2020 seeking $500,00 for physical and emotional damages. However, Tuesday’s verdict only awarded Wenzel partial damages totaling $40,000 — $10,000 short of her claimed medical expenses — after finding one or more officers of the Portland Police Bureau harmed and committed battery against Wenzel.
The jury found the city not liable on Wenzel’s claims of assault and negligence in its police training. Tuesday's verdict will likely influence upcoming lawsuits involving similar circumstances.
Since Portland erupted in protest in late May 2020 in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, dozens of lawsuits have been filed by protesters and organizations against the city and its police department claiming excessive force, wrongful arrest and other civil rights-related claims.
In early June 2020, protesters and local civil rights group Don’t Shoot Portland sued the city claiming police used chemical weapons like tear gas during the Covid-19 pandemic to suppress protests critical of violent policing. Federal agents have also been accused of targeting journalists at protests for assault and arrest, while protest medics like Wenzel have accused police of targeting them.
Unlike several related cases that ended in settlements with the city, Wenzel’s case is the first to reach civil trial.
Wenzel’s attorney John Burgess did not return a request for comment by press time.
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