Trial starts in pepper spray case

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The trial brought against the city by a woman who was pepper sprayed during an Occupy Portland protest in 2011 began in federal court Tuesday, with her lawyers claiming the case is not about money.

Liz Nichols (on the right) in an undated file photo (KOIN 6 News)
Liz Nichols (on the right) in an undated file photo (KOIN 6 News)

Liz Nichols was outside the Chase Bank on November 17, 2011 when she was pepper sprayed in the mouth during a protest. She’s suing the city and the police for $155,000 claiming her constitutional rights were violated and that the police used an excessive amount of force.

In his opening statement, her attorney said, “Miss Nichols was not trying to attack the officers,” and played a video of the event to the jury of four women and three men.

He said is suing to hold the officers accountable, and that the money is not the overriding issue.

Portland City Attorney David Landrum, in his opening statement, played the 911 call from the Chase Bank manager and showed the layout of the bank lobby and the street. He claimed Nichols was not following police instructions and the pepper spray was used by officers in accordance with their training.

This jury trial is expected to last four days.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

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The Associated Press reports Nichols was among thousands of protesters who gathered in Portland on Nov. 17, 2011, in a demonstration against foreclosures by major banks. Protesters lined sidewalks as police vehicles warned them to stay off the pavement. Nichols was among several people who shouted at police from the sidewalk.

She said in the lawsuit that police officer Doris Paisley held a baton to her throat. When she protested, the lawsuit states, McDaniel sprayed her open mouth with pepper spray.

Nichols “was so overcome by pain that she flinched and spun away from (McDaniel),” according to the lawsuit. “She hunched over with her hands on her face. After a moment she felt her legs collapsing and sat down on the sidewalk.”

Nichols said Paisley dragged her by her hair to a different spot where she was charged.

Last year, Nichols was convicted in Multnomah County Circuit Court of interfering with police officers. She was ordered to pay $130.

Now 22, Nichols says in the suit that officers McDaniel and Paisley violated her right to free speech and impeded her right to freedom from unreasonable seizure with excessive force.

Oregonian photographer Randy Rasmussen took a photograph of Nichols at the moment when she was pepper-sprayed. The photo played on newspaper front pages and won a National Headliner award.

The incident occurred a week after the Occupy Portland camp downtown was broken up by police. The Portland camp had lasted a little more than a month, before it was ordered closed because of deteriorating sanitary conditions.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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