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Portland Civil Rights Lawyer

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As an American citizen, and as a resident of Oregon, you are granted numerous civil rights, even if you have committed a crime. Unfortunately, civil rights are often violated by police officers and other government officials. Police misconduct, including brutality, excessive force, use of deadly force, and unlawful searches and seizures are just a few of the many examples of ways officers violate civil rights. The free speech rights granted to Americans under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution can also be violated by government officials, particularly when Portland residents take to the streets to voice their concerns and protest about an issue.

There have been multiple high-profile protests in the Portland area in recent years, including a protest against a #HimToo rally in November 2018 at Chapman Square Park and an August 2018 clash between two right-wing groups and counter protestors in the downtown area. There was the Women's March on Portland the day of the presidential inauguration in 2017, the camp-in outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Facility in Southwest Portland in the summer of 2018, and Black Lives Matter protests in October 2016. The current political climate has caused many people to take to the streets to protest a variety of things. Unfortunately, some protestors are arrested when they have not done anything wrong.

If your civil rights were violated, you could greatly benefit from meeting with an experienced Portland civil rights lawyer from Rizk Law. We have thorough knowledge of the civil rights granted to you under the law and how to determine if any of your rights were violated. We will seek to hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions and pursue any and all relief you may be entitled under the law. Your consultation with our attorneys is 100 percent free of charge and you are under no obligation to pursue legal action after meeting with us. When you contact us we will explain your options and what we think is in your best interests and the next steps are up to you. You can count on our reputable attorneys to guide you through every step of the process and explain what to expect.

Fill out a Free Case Review form or call us at our Portland office at 503.245.5677.  

Types of Civil Rights Cases

Our civil rights lawyers in Portland take on many different types of cases brought by people whose civil rights were violated. For example, there are many different examples of police misconduct that violate the civil rights of citizens. Under Portland law, Portland police officers must protect the rights of persons and property, which includes civil rights.

Civil Rights Violations by Police

In recent years, there has been a lot of national media attention on police shootings. There have been numerous high-profile cases that raise the question of whether or not the officer made the right decision in the use of deadly force. Lawsuits have also been filed alleging officers did not follow the proper procedures to deal with the situation.

There have also been cases that have raised questions about whether police officers used excessive or unnecessary force to subdue someone or apprehend a suspect. For example, you might remember the case of Freddie Gray, who died from injuries he suffered while in the custody of Baltimore police officers.

There are other cases involving allegations of police brutality. In 2015, a jury awarded more than $562,000 to a man who was punched in the head and tasered repeatedly by Portland police. In 2012, another Portland man was awarded $206,372 by a federal jury after it ruled that a police officer used excessive force for firing a Taser into the man's back five times. The officer wrongly suspected the man was spray-painting graffiti.

Police brutality could also occur during a protest on the streets of Portland. Officers could use excessive force when trying to make protestors disperse or leave a particular area. There may be cases where officers use tear gas, smoke bombs or flash bangs, or similar counter measures to make protestors disperse even though this was not necessary and less force could have been applied.

There are many other examples of police misconduct that violate civil rights:

  • Unlawful searches or seizures
  • Racial profiling or bias-based policing
  • Intimidation
  • Using coercion to get you to make a false confession of a crime
  • Wrongful arrests
  • Lying about arrests or interactions with suspects
  • Tampering with evidence to secure a false conviction, such as by planting evidence
  • Unjustified arrests, such as arrests without a warrant

Basically, if an officer is on duty and he or she does anything that violates your civil rights or fails to take appropriate steps to protect your rights, he or she could be held liable.

Mistreatment of Prisoners

Unfortunately, the potential for civil rights violations does not go away once a citizen is taken into custody. Prisoners can be subjected to various types of illegal conduct that can cause serious physical injury or even death.

Common examples of wrongdoing by correctional officers that can lead to serious or life-threatening injury include:

  • Use of excessive force
  • Allowing other prisoners to use excessive force
  • Applying restraints so tightly that it results in suffocation
  • Failing to provide psychiatric care, leading to suicide
  • Sexual abuse

There are even cases where corrections officers fail to provide necessary medical care and it leads to a prisoner's death. For example, if a prisoner is going through alcohol or drug withdrawal and medical care is not provided, he or she could die. Even if a prisoner does not die from lack of medical care, he or she could suffer serious pain and suffering. The medical condition could worsen, or complications could develop.

Failing to provide necessary medical care could be considered a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlaws cruel and unusual punishment.

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement and state agencies to seize possessions such as cash, cars, real estate and other property suspected of being linked to illegal activity. In 80 percent of cases involving civil asset forfeitures, criminal charges are never filed against property owners. However, the threat of charges can stop owners, including innocent ones, from seeking the return of their property.

According to a 2017 annual report, there were 345 seizures conducted by police departments in the state of Oregon. The cash value of all property seized for civil forfeiture was $2,027,160. The Portland Police Bureau conducted 65 seizures totaling a cash value of $176,044.

Oregon’s civil forfeiture laws do provide property owners with some protections. According to Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) 131A.255, a criminal conviction is required for all civil forfeitures. In civil proceedings, the government must prove the property’s connection to alleged illegal activity by a preponderance of evidence standard. The standard is a bit higher for real property, such as a house or plot of land. In these situations, the government must abide by the clear and convincing evidence standard.

If money or weapons are found within close proximity to drugs, the owner bears the burden of showing by a preponderance of evidence that the items are not linked or related in any way to a drug crime.

Oregon agencies are required to report the details of forfeited or seized property to the Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory Committee. Up to 62.5 percent of forfeiture proceeds go to local law enforcement and up to 57 percent of forfeiture proceeds can go to a state agency if it brings a case forward.

Asset forfeiture actions taken by law enforcement without warrants or probable cause may be considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

Forfeitures Involving Marijuana

Marijuana is still illegal for most individuals in the state of Oregon. Under federal law, businesses and individuals cannot manufacture, distribute, dispense or possess marijuana. However, this conflicts with Oregon State Law - when Ballot Measure 91 passed in 2014 and took effect the next year, it allowed personal and medicinal use of marijuana with various restrictions on the possession, cultivation and sale of this drug.

For example, Oregon allows adults who are at least 21 years of age to possess less than one ounce, but they cannot use it in public places or in public view. You are also allowed to cultivate four plants in your home. Marijuana is also legal in Oregon for medicinal use if you have a condition on a list of conditions and have been diagnosed by a licensed medical doctor or osteopath.   

Within a year under the Trump administration, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era Justice Department memo that encouraged federal prosecutors to generally not interfere with state cannabis legalization laws.

The federal government is now less restricted when it comes to prosecuting marijuana-related activities. Under 21 U.S. Code § 881, civil forfeitures for drug-related criminal conduct are allowed. This means the government can permanently seize drug-related personal property or real estate. This includes taking any raw materials and equipment used to manufacture marijuana, vehicles used to distribute marijuana, and the possible destruction of the controlled substance itself.

Free Speech Cases

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from restricting your freedom of speech, your right to petition the government or the right to assemble peaceably.

This means that if the government prevents you from speaking at a protest, it might be a violation of the First Amendment. Of course, it depends on the circumstances and if you said or did something that violated the law.

The government could also attempt to regulate the time, place or manner of your speech. This could include:

  • Telling you where you can protest and prohibiting you from protesting in certain places
  • Placing limits on the number of protestors at a protest
  • Restricting where you can place signs on government property
  • Prohibiting you from holding early-morning or late-evening demonstrations
  • Regulating the noise level of a protest

However, you may be able to challenge these restrictions – they are illegal unless they pass a three-prong test, according to the Supreme Court. Restrictions must be:

  • Content-neutral, which means they do not favor one type of content over another
  • Narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, such as safety
  • Tailored to leave you with alternative methods for communicating your message

The Supreme Court has also given states the ability to set their own laws regarding free speech and the state of Oregon is no exception. In fact, the right to free speech in the Oregon Constitution is considered one of the nation’s strongest and is broader in scope than the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Article 1, Section 8 of the Oregon Constitution specifies that no subject is off limits when it comes to freedom of expression. No law can prohibit you from freely expressing your opinion or restricting your right to speak, write or print freely on any subject matter. This includes the use of obscenity.

In 1987, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that an anti-obscenity statute violated the free speech provision of the Oregon Constitution. The case (State v. Henry) involved numerous attempts to close an adult bookstore, and the eventual decision made it legal to exchange obscene materials between consenting adults. The ruling also made Oregon the first state to abolish the offense of obscenity in its state law. Under federal law, most forms of obscenity are not protected by the First Amendment.

In your free consultation with our Portland civil rights attorneys we can review the civil rights violations you were subjected to and determine if you can take legal action. We are thoroughly familiar with state and federal laws and how they apply to different cases. We will explain if we think it would be in your best interest to take legal action.

Fill out a Free Case Review form or call us at 503.245.5677.

Laws on Filing Claims Against Government Entities

There are state and federal laws governing the liability of police officers and government entities for violating your civil rights. Our Portland civil rights lawyers have detailed knowledge of these laws and how to apply them to the specifics of your case.

Oregon Laws

Under Article IV, section 24 of the Oregon Constitution, the state cannot be held liable for the negligence of a government agency or entity. This legal arrangement is also known as sovereign immunity.

However, this same section of the state constitution gives the state the authority to waive sovereign immunity through general law. Oregon's Tort Claims Act does just that, stating that public bodies can be subject to civil action for their negligence and the negligence of their officers, employees and agents who are acting within the scope of their duties or employment. A public body is defined as any state government body, local government body or special government body.

Generally, the Oregon Tort Claims Act allows you to file three types of claims:

  • Personal injury or wrongful death claims – If you were injured or lost a loved one due to the negligence of a public body or one of its employees, such as a police officer, you may be able to pursue compensation.
  • Property damage claims – This is similar to a personal injury claim except you are pursuing compensation for damaged or destroyed property.
  • Car accident claims – If a government employee caused you to get into a car accident while he or she was driving as part of his or her job, this person could potentially be held liable.

However, there are numerous exceptions to the Tort Claims Act. For example, if you were working when you were injured and are covered by workers' compensation, you cannot file a claim against the public body. Under ORS 30.265(6)(e), claims that arise out of riots, civil commotion or mob action, or acts or omissions connected to preventing the above activities are not covered by the Tort Claims Act.

You are also prohibited from filing a claim for injury, loss or death that results from negligent actions or omissions in the provision of emergency medical assistance. The only exception to this rule is if you can prove that the acts or omissions violate the standards of reasonable care for the circumstances when emergency medical assistance was given.

Section 1983 of Federal Law

Federal law also provides a right to take civil action against police officers, corrections officers and other employees acting under the authority of state or local law. Under 42 United States Code (U.S.C.) § 1983, also referred to as Section 1983, anyone who, while acting under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage of any state or territory, subjects someone or causes someone to be subjected to deprivation of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws is liable for redress.

You could use this law to seek damages if you were the victim of police brutality or misconduct. Damages could include medical bills, physical pain and emotional distress, among others.

One of the crucial aspects of a Section 1983 claim is whether the liable party was acting under color of the law. For example, in a case involving police misconduct, there are several factors to consider when determining if the officer was on duty when your civil rights were violated, such as if the officer was wearing his or her uniform, he or she used police equipment, or carried out an arrest.

The laws governing cases involving civil rights violations are complicated. There are various exceptions and factors involved in determining if a police officer or other government entity is liable for your damages. This is why it could be to your advantage to have a qualified attorney at your side throughout the process.

The Portland civil rights lawyers at Rizk Law know how to aggressively pursue compensation in these cases.

Call us today at 503.245.5677 for a free, no obligation legal consultation.

Filing a Claim in Oregon

Under state law, you must follow certain procedures when filing a claim against a governmental entity, whether it is a state or local entity. Before you can file a lawsuit, you must provide notice of the claim within 180 days of the civil rights violations that caused you harm. The state can provide you with the General Liability Claim Form through mail, email or fax, or you can download it online.

There are limits on the amount of compensation you can recover in a claim under the Oregon Tort Claims Act. For actions that arose on or after July 1, 2014 and before July 1, 2015, the cap is $2 million, which means for cases in that timeframe you cannot recover more than $2 million in damages (ORS 30.271). However, the cap goes up each year, and the increase is determined by the State Court Administrator, who bases changes on the OR-WA Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers for All Items.

This cap applies to claims against the state, an officer, employee or agent of the state acting within the person's scope of employment or duties. The cap excludes claims for damage to or destruction of property.

The civil rights attorneys in Portland at our firm can handle the filing of your claim on your behalf. Schedule a free legal consultation today to find out more about how we can help you throughout the legal process.

Fill out our online form to schedule your legal consultation.

Contact a Portland Civil Rights Lawyer Today

If the police or government officials violated your civil rights guaranteed to you by the U.S. Constitution, or a loved one was mistreated by police, you may have the right to take legal action. Our Portland civil rights attorneys are prepared to take on cases involving many different civil rights violations, including free speech violations. We have in-depth knowledge and understanding of the laws governing civil rights, on the state and federal level.

We can manage every aspect of your case on your behalf. Our goal is to hold the perpetrators accountable for their illegal actions and obtain any compensation or remedies you are entitled under the law.

The consultation with our skilled attorneys is completely free and comes with no obligation to take legal action. This means there is no risk in contacting us to discuss what happened.

Call Rizk Law right now at 503.245.5677.