FILE — Portland police tear gas

Police officers pass a fire lit by protesters on Saturday, September 5, 2020, in Portland, Oregon.

(The Center Square) — Multnomah County prisoners claim they were exposed to tear gas deployed by police that seeped into their cells, according to a class action lawsuit filed in district court. 

The lawsuit alleges that prisoners in Portland's Multnomah County Detention Center were forced to breath in tear gas used by police against people protesting police brutality on a nightly basis over the summer.

This began on the night of May 29, the lawsuit claims, when tear gas deployed by the Portland Police Bureau outside the facility began working its way into the jail's ventilation systems, causing prisoners to cough, gag, and vomit.

It names prisoners Robin Lundy, Rashawd Duhart, and Theresa Davis as lead plaintiffs and 300 more represented by Portland attorney Joe Piucci and a team of seven other attorneys.

Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, Multnomah Chief Deputy of Corrections Steven Alexander, Multnomah County, and a number of jail staff.

"Night after night, Multnomah County Jail deputies ignored cries for help, stopped responding to emergency calls, and left the men and women trapped in their cells to suffer," the lawsuit states. "Jail deputies and supervisors alike treated detainees callously, inhumanely, and with deliberate indifference." 

Attorney representing the case allege further that the jail staff did not inform prisoners of what was going on as they continued to inhale tear gas in their cells through July 30.

According to the lawsuit, at least one pregnant female prisoner in cell block 8D of the jail was also exposed to tear gas for about 35 minutes on the night of July 21 and received no assistance.

The lawsuit quotes a Willamette Week article from July 24 in which Reese reportedly said tear gas, among other things, had made "significant and traumatizing impacts on the adults in custody and our staff."

Portland police have since been banned from using tear gas, though not pepper spray and mace. The long-term medical effects of tear gas is largely unknown.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for undetermined punitive damages inflicted on the plaintiffs as well as a jury trial.

Protests against police brutality in Portland have continued since May 28 following the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police on May 25.

As of Wednesday, they have lasted 182 days and will surpass 200 by December 13.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.