USA: Police State

Wrong Guy

The Agitator

Back to Portland.

The City Council approved a $250,000 settlement Wednesday to a man mistaken by police as a tagger and was hit with a stun gun over and over.

A jury wanted the city to pay for a police officer using excessive force.

Police took down Dan Halsted while he was just innocently walking home. The officer stunned Halsted five times with a Taser in the back because he thought he sprayed some graffiti.

Halsted was tackled by a Portland police officer in the Northeast Portland neighborhood of Sullivan’s Gulch four years ago.

“I was walking home and all of a sudden a flashlight came on in my eyes and I stopped, and I heard a voice say, ‘Get him!’ And I heard footsteps coming at me, so I turned and I ran.”

In the pitch dark, Halsted thought he was being jumped.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “I was screaming to call the police the whole time, and I didn’t realize this was the police because they never identified themselves at all.”

Police had mistaken Halsted for a tagger who hit a nearby building.

“The arresting officer in his police report, he made up a whole other story and said that I had been running down the street with a couple other people.”

That’s the same thing the officer testified to in court when Halsted sued. In reality Halsted had been with friends at the Rose and Thistle Restaurant and was never charged with any crime.

The unsettling implication lurking beneath this story is that if Halsted had been spraying graffiti, this sort of treatment would have been perfectly appropriate. Also, I love this . . .

During the trial, the city’s attorney tried to use Halsted’s classic kung fu film collection against him, saying it proved he was violent.

Of course, taxpayers will pay the award. And as far as I can tell, Officer Benjamin J. Davidson is still on the police force. (The article above doesn’t mention his name.)

I was surprised to learn that under Oregon law, 60 percent of punitive damages awarded in suits like this go not to the brutality vicitim, but to a fund for crime victims. And another 10 percent goes to . . . a fund for Oregon state courts. Really.

But given that Halsted won in federal court, it isn’t clear to me that Oregon state law would apply to this case. Anyone know?