A man whose conviction for carrying an illegal gun was overturned by a federal appeals court has filed a lawsuit against the Portland Police Bureau.
Bennie Washington, 40, of Portland was arrested in 2004 after officers asked if they could search him. Washington, who wasn't doing anything illegal, consented to the search and officers found the gun under a seat of his car.
Washington was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to six years in prison.
A federal appeals court, however, tossed out his conviction in June. The appeals court ruled that Washington's consent wasn't voluntary because he had reason to be afraid of the white officers, given the "the unique situation in Portland between the African-American community and the Portland police."
Bishop Wells, who served on a panel examining racial profiling in Portland, testified during Washington's trial that blacks in Portland are encouraged by their own community and the police to be compliant when stopped so the encounters don't turn deadly.
"They are encouraged to not try to advance any rights other than to stay alive," he said.
Sgt. Brian Schmautz, a police spokesman, said officers have every right to approach people without a reason, strike up a conversation and ask permission for a search.
Schmautz dismissed Washington's argument that although he said yes, he did not want to give consent to a search.
"Now this guy has the temerity to sue? Based on what?" Schmautz said. "What did the officers do other than walk up to a guy and have a conversation? The day the city pays out money for officers contacting people, well then, the city better get a big wallet."
Washington, who spent about a year in prison, is seeking $3 million in damages in the suit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court this week. He claims police targeted him solely because of his skin color.