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Monday, November 14, 2011

Interview With Hospitalized Protester, Justin James Bridges

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Mon, Nov 14, 2011 at 1:01 PM

I just got off the phone with protester Justin James Bridges, who is currently in Legacy Emanuel hospital sustaining some injuries during the eviction of Occupy Portland yesterday. We don't have the police officer's side of this story, yet, but if Bridges does pursue legal action—as he says he will—that story will come out.

Bridges, 28, runs an internet radio station an has been living at the Occupy camp for nearly five weeks, volunteering as a sign language interpreter during the protest's general assemblies. He was interpreting for the deaf during yesterday's assembly in Chapman Park during the eviction when the police began pushing hold-outs out of the park. "The cops came in and started pushing people and destroying things," says Bridges. "I turned around and told everyone that was standing by watching to get their video tapes out because they were violating our rights and we have to protect our rights. When I turned back around, I got caught in the crowd and my back got pushed up against a concrete trash can and I fell on to the ground." Another photo of the interaction is here.

"The police grabbed me by my legs and pulled me through the mud," says Bridges. "They started saying I was resisting arrest and started beating me. They tried to pick me up and I couldn't feel my legs, they were screaming at me because I couldn't walk." When officers grabbed ahold of his bandana, Bridges continues, he began to choke and told officers he couldn't breathe. "One of the cops laughed and said, 'You can still breathe because you can talk.'" Bridges says he passed out and was not arrested, but instead taken to the hospital. "I was beat, they took away my first amendment right to peacefully assemble. They didn't even charge me or arrest me. "

While his arm is hurt, Bridges hopes to be released from the hospital today because he's a medical marijuana patient, but is not allowed to have marijuana in Legacy Emanuel.

It's worth noting that Bridges' story is definitely the exception to that mostly peaceful actions over the weekend—of the estimated 5,000 people who descended on downtown for the protest, Bridges is the only protester who reports being sent to the hospital because of police.

Update 3pm! The Portland Police just sent out a notice with some information about Bridges. They say Bridges was not beaten by police, but carried to safety by officers. From their release:

A lot of information is circulating about a man named Justin Bridges who suffered injuries during his arrest. Bridges fell down on the ground in between police and protestors. He was carried by officers to safety, away from the crowd, where he was taken into custody. Bridges was then able to get to his feet with assistance from officers and he told officers that he had previously broken his back.

Also, here is a video interview with Bridges from his hospital room.

Update 4:10pm: Denis here. After a press conference today with Chief Mike Reese, Assistant Chief Larry O'Dea, and Mayor Sam Adams, the bureau's spokesmen asked myself and a member of Occupy Portland to look over the bureau's video of part of the incident. (They'll likely make that public later today.)

The relevant footage starts with Bridges being brusquely and quickly dragged back into Chapman Square from the front lines. And here comes a caveat: the camera operator was still heading toward the lines and didn't capture whatever led to Bridges' injuries.

But once Bridges was pulled back along the sidewalk, he was turned on his side and then released, expect for his handcuffs. He can be heard howling in pain and also telling officers he couldn't feel his leg and that his back was broken. The officers surrounding him can be seen asking him questions and actually appear dispassionate, serious. They help him up slowly but not very forcefully, and then help him walk off camera, where, police say, Bridges was sat down on a bench until medical help arrived.

Update 5:23pm—Police have released their video of Bridges. Sadly, it doesn't show the section of time where Bridges says he was beaten. But it does show the aftermath where he is lying on the ground handcuffed, then having a hard time getting up, then being carried off by police.

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