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Pepper Sprayed Baby Sale

Activist's Settlement in Brutality Lawsuit Doesn't Settle the Matter

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Evelyne Moyo is a local French teacher. Two years ago, she went downtown to express her displeasure with President George W. Bush, who was passing through on a fundraising trip. That afternoon has become lore in local history: Pointblank, the cops pepper sprayed an infant. They clubbed and knocked down peaceful protesters. During the melee, Moyo was hit directly in the face with pepper spray.

A day or so later, she called the mayor's office, told her story and asked for $5 to cover her trip to Kaiser. They told her to get an attorney.

Upset, that's exactly what she did. And, last week, city council approved a $300,000 settlement with Moyo and 11 other victims of police brutality at recent political protests. That amount represents only a portion of the money that the city ultimately will pay out. The city will also need to pay attorney fees to the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, who handled the lawsuits. With two years of intensive litigation, research, and depositions, the fees could more than exceed another $300,000. A judge will decide on the final amount.

Alan Graf, one of the lead attorneys handling the case, was proud that the city had finally conceded there are problems in both personnel and protocols at the police bureau. For more than two years, Graf and the plaintiffs have been trying to elicit at least a peep of guilt from the bureau. Instead, they have been stonewalled with silence and arrogance. Shortly following the anti-Bush demonstrations, two of the officers accused of brutality were promoted to captains.

"The message seems to be if you're macho and disrespectful, you're promoted," explained Graf at a packed press conference last Wednesday.

As Graf spoke from a podium, a continuous video looped on a TV screen in the background. One clip showed a young woman walking along the street. Suddenly, she is surrounded by officers. As she clings to a parking meter post, an officer pries her fingers loose and exposes her face long enough to shoot pepper spray into her eyes. Even as she tries to run away, police officers pursue her, dousing her with pepper spray. During Graf's press conference, the petite 22-year-old woman sat quietly nearby.

Not only was the settlement a partial victory but, explained Graf, it's a shot in the arm for the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center.

"We're taking the money that the city gave us and we're going to turn around and sue them some more," said Graf. Many of the plaintiffs have donated at least part of their settlement awards back to the Center. In turn, the Center plans to use some of their newly acquired money to finance a project for African American teens to videotape police stops around north and northeast Portland.

However, the settlement was still a disappointment because the police bureau did not agree to any recommended policy changes. As part of the lawsuit, plaintiffs were requesting that the police re-tool their demonstration protocols--namely, curbing indiscriminate pepper spraying.

In fact, attorneys for the abused protesters had asked for even less money than the city is ultimately paying. According to Graf, they had negotiated with Cmdr. Rosie Sizer and city attorneys a detailed agreement that would have implemented new police protocols. But when the agreement was taken to Chief Derrick Foxworth for his final approval, it was rejected. He returned a counteroffer of $300,000, essentially preferring to just pay them off.

City council also failed to take responsibility for pushing forward reforms. To finalize the settlement offer, city council was required to approve it. But instead of admonishing police officers like Sgt. Mark Kruger, who was a named defendant in two separate incidents of abuse, Mayor Vera Katz pointed her finger at former chief Mark Kroeker.

"You'd have to be blind not to see that," she announced, referring to the videotaped incidents of pepper spraying and beatings. The incidents occurred while Kroeker was still police chief.

Unfortunately, Katz's statement exposes her duplicity, because city council did know about the abuses long before last week. In January, Katz and the council were shown the very videos that backed the lawsuit. Activists brought the clips into council chambers and screened them. At the time, they asked for a response. In this instance, Katz did nothing to change police behavior.

Graf has said it is only a matter of time before a demonstrator is killed by police abuse.

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