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News / Northwest

Lawsuit filed over man’s death in Portland protests is dismissed

Judge: Neither city nor mayor took specific action that placed man in greater danger on Aug. 29, 2020

By Associated Press
Published: September 3, 2022, 9:03pm

PORTLAND — A judge has dismissed a federal lawsuit filed against the city of Portland, the mayor and the Multnomah County district attorney by the estate of a man who was shot and killed after a pro-Trump car rally.

The suit had alleged that negligence around increasingly violent clashes between competing groups in Portland created an environment that encouraged lawlessness and led to Aaron “Jay” Danielson’s killing.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Youlee Yim You found that the city and the mayor took no specific action that placed Danielson in greater danger on Aug. 29, 2020, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. She dismissed the lawsuit’s due process and negligence claims.

The judge noted that members of the public have no constitutional right to sue public employees who fail to protect them from harm inflicted by third parties.

A “state-created danger exception” to that rule applies when government employees affirmatively place the plaintiff in a position of danger, but that didn’t happen in this case, the opinion said.

The lawsuit did not allege, for example, that the city government or mayor directed Danielson to the place where he was shot, prevented him from leaving, had any contact with him or were aware of his presence downtown, You wrote.

Gunman also killed

Michael Reinoehl, a self-described anti-fascist who said he provided security for racial justice protests in Portland, appeared to have targeted Danielson, according to surveillance camera video of the shooting. Reinoehl, 48, fired two gunshots as Danielson was walking downtown after the rally, according to a police affidavit.

Danielson, 39, died from a bullet to the chest, an autopsy found. Danielson had been with friend Chandler Pappas and both were wearing Patriot Prayer hats, signifying their support of the far-right group based in Vancouver.

Reinoehl was shot and killed days later outside a Washington apartment complex by officers from a multi-agency federal task force who moved in to arrest him on a murder warrant.

Attorney Christopher L. Cauble, representing Danielson’s estate, had argued that the city failed to keep demonstrators and counter- demonstrators separated. He also argued that the mayor urged police to avoid engaging with crowds “unless a life safety situation” developed.

The judge found that wasn’t enough to back the lawsuit’s claims.

“At best, those actions may have increased the general risk inherent to anyone in downtown at the time; however, the state-created danger doctrine requires showing that government actors created a particular risk specific to the harmed individual,” You wrote.

The suit also alleged that the city and mayor, by providing only a “skeletal police presence” with directions to officers to stay out of sight and apart from demonstrators, emboldened people to engage in violent behavior.

Yet the judge said such actions were not specific to Danielson but instead “aimed at the public-at-large.”

Unlike Seattle case

The lawsuit’s allegations are unlike a case brought in Seattle when that city “abruptly deserted” the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct in the Capitol Hill neighborhood amid civil rights protests in June 2020, the judge noted.

Seattle is accused of encouraging the participants of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, to wall off the area and “agreed to a ‘no response’ zone within and near CHOP’s borders” — allegations sufficient to support a claim that the city’s actions “foreseeably placed the plaintiffs in a worse position than they would been” without any city intervention, You said in her ruling.

In this suit, the judge also ruled that District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s decision not to prosecute cases that “don’t involve deliberate property damage, theft or threat of force against another person” was protected by prosecutorial immunity.

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon on Thursday adopted You’s findings and ordered the suit against the city, the mayor and Schmidt dismissed with prejudice, meaning it can’t be refiled.

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