Sherman R. Frederick
Jeremy Portje, a freelance photographer who was arrested by Sausalito police for injuring a police officer and resisting arrest has filed a race-laden lawsuit in federal court against the Sausalito Department and several officers claiming his civil rights were violated.
Portje, who is also the vice chair of the Novato police review committee, was arrested Nov. 30 after a confrontation at a camp for the homeless in Sausalito at Marinship Park. An officer was injured in the altercation and treated at a local hospital.
But Marin County District Attorney Lori E. Frugoli said that Portje’s arrest and charges did not meet a prosecutorial burden.
“While we take all allegations of assault on a police officer seriously, in this case a team of veteran prosecutors who reviewed the case found that the evidence did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that Portje intended to injure the officer,” Frugoli said. “Beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of proof required by ethical and legal standards for prosecutors to move forward with a case. It is a higher standard than probable cause, which is the standard required by law enforcement to make an arrest.”
The federal case filed by Portje names the City of Sausalito, the Sausalito Police Department, Sausalito Police Chief John Rohrbacher, and Sausalito Police Officers Thomas Georges, Sean Smagalski, Nick White and Sausalito Detective Davin Rose.
The filing says Portje was subject to “unlawful unsolicited provocation, arrest, beating and seizure of photographic equipment, recordings, and media storage of an African American journalist.”
The suit says “Courts have often had to remind the police that the ‘right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.’”
Portje’s suit seeks “redress for the violation of (his) rights under the United States and California’s Constitutions and Federal and State law. It challenges the Sausalito Police Department’s and City of Sausalito’s policy, custom and practice of obstructing First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the press to gather, record, and disseminate news and information about events of public interest and of related police activity in public places. This case presents a blatantly disturbing example of the type of police misconduct directed at journalists that courts, the U.S. Justice Department, and state legislatures have repeatedly condemned.”
The lawsuit recounts a version of how Sausalito is alleged to have treated so-called “anchorouts” and maintaining that the Marinship homeless Tent City is an offshoot of that interaction.
Portje says he was shooting a situation with police and a person in the camp. The suit says “Portje moved throughout the area capturing footage from different locations and angles while safely and respectfully keeping his distance from law enforcement’s activities.”
Then, the suit says, police officers came his way and Portje was “reasonably fearful” because an “armed Causasian police officer … was approaching him … with rage upon his face.”
One officer came at him “smirking and chewing gum,” the lawsuit says.
What ensued, Portje claims in the lawsuit, was a “dance of provocation” in which eventually Police Officer Georges was somehow struck in the face “causing a laceration.”
Portje then claims that Officer Georges threw punches at him and grabbed his hair yelling “stop resisting.”
In this process, Portje said his rotator cuff was torn and he dropped to his knees. At roughly this point, the encounter was caught on video from bystanders. Before that, the body cam of Officer Georges, the District Attorney said, became dislodged and was not useful in determining how it all went down, the D.A. said. It is not known whether Portje’s camera was running at the time of the altercation. If so, it could be called into evidence in the case.
The lawsuit claims that after police had him on his knees, they put him “in full display” of the camp which, the lawsuit claims is a “clear and unequivocal warning to them, as well as striking an all to frequent pose of an African American defendant seized by a cadre of Causaian police, clearly the modern embodiment of the gruesome history of slave catchers in the South.”