Demonstrators gather outside the state Capitol on Sunday, May 31, 2020 to protest police violence. The protests in Salem were among those that occurred across the country in response to the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died while being taken into custody by police. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem police aren’t at fault for injuries sustained by Eleaqia McCrae after an officer shot her in the eye and chest during last summer’s racial justice protests, lawyers for the city said in court filings Tuesday. 

McCrae filed a federal lawsuit against the city last year after suffering permanent eye injury from the bullet. In the city’s response, attorneys Gerald Warren and Jennifer Gaddis said Eleaqia McCrae’s injuries “if any” were caused by her own negligent conduct “by failing to disperse the area when the protests were no longer peaceful.”

Emily DuPlessis-Enders, city spokeswoman, said the city wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.

DOCUMENT LINKS: COMPLAINT

CITY'S RESPONSE

An amended complaint, filed in May, alleged Salem police officer Robert Johnston intentionally shot rubber projectiles using a 40mm launcher at Black demonstrators using deadly force.

The initial complaint sought to change Salem Police Department policies and practices following racial justice protests that occurred in Salem in late May and early June.  

McCrae, who is Black, contends in the lawsuit that the city’s actions violated her constitutional rights to free speech. 

A court filing by McCrae’s attorney offers the following account of what happened on May 31, when Salem and cities across the country were in the midst of protests against police violence.  

McCrae a West Salem High School graduate and student-athlete at Mt. Hood Community College, attended the protest in Salem with her sister and friend, marching with demonstrators to the Center Street Bridge and back to the Oregon State Capitol around 9 p.m.

The lawsuit said the crowd linked arms and knelt in the street. At 10:03 p.m. Salem police used tear gas on the crowd because people were tossing objects at them. There were no significant injuries to police reported during the summer protests. 

When McCrae got up to leave, the lawsuit said she was shot by police twice. One rubber bullet hit her chest and the other hit her eye. After being shot in the eye, McCrae bent over in pain and passed out, her complaint states.  

When she came to, McCrae was taken to the emergency room for her eye, the complaint said. She suffers permanent vision loss and requires surgery, according to the complaint.

In a response to the complaint, Warren and Gaddis argued if McCrae was subject to assault or battery “such action was justified under the circumstances when Salem police officers were recipients of violent crowd acts, including the throwing of frozen water bottles with nails, glass bottles, rocks, bricks and large mortar fireworks.”

The complaint also notes that the city had been placed under a curfew because of the unrest that accompanied the protests.

The response denied most of the allegations in the suit, including that Black and brown demonstrators were targeted or that McCrae’s First Amendment rights were violated.

Kevin Brague, attorney for McCrae, said the lawsuit is still in the discovery phase, requesting documents from the city to support his case.

He said there’s no reason for the city to think McCrae wasn’t injured during the demonstrations.

“It’s why we have lawsuits, there are two stories,” Brague said. 

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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