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10 Aug, 2013 04:43

Jury clears police of using excessive force against Occupy Portland protester

Jury clears police of using excessive force against Occupy Portland protester

A jury has cleared the city of Portland, Oregon and two police officers of using excessive force during an Occupy protest in November 2011, when a demonstrator was struck in the throat with a baton and sprayed with pepper spray into her open mouth.

The case of Elizabeth Nichols came to an end on Friday when a lawsuit against the city and police was thrown out of court. Nichols took part in an Occupy Portland protest several years ago and ended up becoming one of the highest profile instances of alleged police brutality against the Occupy movement.

According to the lawsuit, Nichols “was so overcome by pain that she flinched and spun away” from Sgt. Jeffrey McDaniel after he sprayed her directly in the mouth with pepper spray.

She hunched over with her hands on her face. After a moment she felt her legs collapsing and sat down on the sidewalk,” the lawsuit read.

A photograph taken for The Oregonian newspaper at the time that Nichols was being pepper sprayed quickly went viral, becoming one of the ubiquitous visuals of the entire Occupy Wall Street movement.

"We're disappointed with the result," Ben Haile, one of Nichols' attorneys, told AP. "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.” 

It took four hours for an Oregon jury to return a verdict, deciding that police did not use excessive force when one officer struck Nichols with a baton and she was subsequently subjected to pepper spray.

According to Kenneth Kreuscher, another of Nichols' attorneys, officers went beyond their orders to secure a bank branch during the Occupy Portland protest.

David Landrum, the lead attorney for the city of Portland, countered that the protest was unruly and officers simply responded to a threat. In a court motion, city attorneys wrote that Nichols “actively, physically resisted lawful police instructions to move off the sidewalk” and “aggressively moved as if to attack” the police.

According to the suit filed by Nichols, Officer Doris Paisley dragged her by her hair and charged her with interfering with police. Nichols was convicted in 2012 and ordered to pay a $130 fine.  

Downtown Portland had seen a 300-strong encampment of protesters dispersed by police just a few weeks prior to the protest. Nichols was one of thousands of Occupy demonstrators marching through the area that day.

Nichols originally sought $155,000, but later reduced that amount to $30,000.

Despite the loss, Nichols’ attorneys said they are happy that the issue has been aired publicly and that attention has been focused on police reaction to the demonstrations.