The estate of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a 39-year-old supporter of former President Donald Trump who was fatally shot by an Antifa backer in Portland, Oregon, last year, filed a $13 million federal lawsuit Friday against the city, its mayor and the county district attorney, according to a report.
A lawyer for the estate claims Danielson’s death was “preventable” and the filing blames the city’s and mayor’s “hands off” policing strategy regarding political protests for sparking a “culture of vigilante policing” between opposing groups, OregonLive.com reported.
“We are seeking justice for the preventable death of a young man, gunned down in a city with a dangerous and deadly hands-off approach to public safety,” Christopher L. Cauble, the attorney for Danielson’s estate, said in a statement, according to the news outlet.
“We are seeking justice for the preventable death of a young man, gunned down in a city with a dangerous and deadly hands-off approach to public safety.”
“Time and time again,” the lawyer continued, “City leadership and law enforcement have failed to find an effective response to clashing groups of protesters. For well over a year, they have known when and where these rallies would occur and the likelihood of escalating violence. Yet no strategy of protective intervention has been utilized to this day. This reckless dereliction of duty, cost our client, Aaron Danielson, his life.”
City Attorney Robert Taylor late Friday declined to comment to OregonLive.com, the outlet reported.
The lawsuit names as a defendant Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schmidt, claiming Schmidt publicly stated in August 2020 that he would avoid pursuing prosecutions for “public order crimes,” such as mischief and disorderly conduct offenses normally associated with rioting, and instead focus on more serious offenses, such as property damage, assaults or threats of assaults, OregonLive.com reported.
Schmidt’s office did not immediately respond to the outlet’s request for comment.
The lawsuit also claims that officers with the Portland Police Bureau were instructed to avoid involvement in disputes between opposing political groups – even though the city had seen violent clashes in the streets just a week before Danielson’s death.
The suit claims the law enforcement policies created an atmosphere where protesters on both sides could expect “a skeletal and passive police presence” on the weekend of Danielson’s death.
Danielson died Aug. 29, 2020, from a single gunshot wound to his chest after being approached by a suspect who was seen on video, appearing to be waiting for Danielson in the alcove of a downtown parking garage, the news outlet reported.
The suspect was later identified as Michael Forest Reinoehl, 48, a self-described anti-fascist who was fatally shot days later – Sept. 3, 2020 – after law enforcement officers tracked him down and tried to arrest him in Washington state. The officers from multi-agencies were pursuing Reinoehl on a Multnomah County, Oregon, warrant that charged him with second-degree murder and unlawful use of a firearm in connection with Danielson’s death, OregonLive.com reported.
At the time he was shot, Danielson was walking with a friend named Chandler Pappas, both of them wearing “Patriot Prayer” caps, referring to a conservative group based in Vancouver, Washington, just outside Portland.
In September 2020, Pappas appeared on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and claimed Danielson had been killed because he supported Trump.
He claimed that apparel such as MAGA hats or “pro-patriot” gear made conservatives easy targets for Antifa activists looking to cause harm. Pappas added that neither he nor Danielson were carrying weapons on the night Danielson was killed.
On Wednesday, at a Portland City Council meeting, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler backtracked from supporting “hands off” policing after previously expressing support for it, citing the response to a more recent clash in the city, on Aug. 22 of this year.
“It is clear, based on the public outcry, on the media outcry, on the national front, that that strategy was not the right strategy,” Wheeler said during a Portland City Council meeting, according to The Associated Press.
“I think we can all acknowledge that,” he added. “I take full responsibility for it.”
The mayor’s remarks came in advance of a city council vote on a $50,000 settlement relating to a woman’s claim that she had been injured at an Aug. 4 protest when police hurled a flash-bang munition at her with no warning, the AP reported. The council approved the settlement in a unanimous vote, the report said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.