Lawyers for the Portland protester shot in the face with an impact munition last summer have notified the U.S. government of their plans to file a multimillion-dollar lawsuit for injuries that have left him with significant brain damage.
Donavan LaBella, 26, was hit while demonstrating last July outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland during the height of mass racial justice protests after George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer.
He suffered serious head injuries that required multiple surgeries.
His lawyers, Chris Best and James Healy, sent notification to the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement of LaBella’s plans to file a federal lawsuit.
In a letter obtained Friday by The Oregonian/OregonLive, the attorneys wrote that the government has so far refused to reveal the identity of the officer who shot LaBella.
They noted that their own “initial investigation” suggests the officer was a deputy U.S. marshal who was a member of the agency’s special operations group. They again pressed for the government to identify the officer.
Members of Oregon’s congressional delegation revealed last summer that the federal employee was assigned to the specialized unit of the Marshals Service.
“It is now incumbent on the federal agency responsible for Mr. LaBella’s injuries to come forward and offer penance for this infamous event and the lifelong harm Mr. LaBella has been forced to endure,” they wrote in the letter dated May 6. “As Thomas Paine famously said, ‘A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.’”
“Mr. LaBella very much looks forward to his opportunity to hold his wrongdoers accountable,” they wrote.
Best and Healy wrote that LaBella was peacefully demonstrating at Lownsdale Square on July 11 when he was fired on.
A video shared on social media shows LaBella holding a speaker aloft with both hands while standing across the street from the courthouse between two parked cars. Federal officers throw a canister that lands at his feet, which he tosses away from him and back into the middle of the street, then raises the speaker again.
A few seconds later, a firing sound can be heard and LaBella collapses, dropping the speaker.
The video shows no sign of aggressive provocation by LaBella. He appears to be standing alone.
The weapon released a munition that “flew across the street directly into the front of Mr. LaBella’s skull, between his eyebrows approximately one inch right of center,” the lawyers wrote.
The U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into the use of force against LaBella.
The injury was devastating, the lawyers wrote.
“From that point forward Mr. LaBella’s life forever changed,” they wrote. “No words can accurately describe the suffering Mr. LaBella has been forced to endure.”
His injuries include an open fracture to the frontal sinus extending into the frontal lobes of his brain with bilateral lobe hemorrhage that caused permanent brain damage, they wrote. He experienced a “brain abscess” that required “emergency intervention.”
Best and Healy said they have not completed a review of LaBella’s medical bills but expect them to exceed $1 million.
The lawyers wrote that as a result of his injuries, LaBella is “forever left incapable of exploring the multitude of vocational opportunities that would have afforded him a comfortable financial outlook.”
“Simply put,” they wrote, “Mr. LaBella’s economic damages are vast, and his noneconomic damages are even greater.”
The notification is required before filing a lawsuit against the government.
LaBella has been in and out of the hospital since his injury.
“Cognitively he is still struggling,” Best said in an interview. “The road for him to get back to normalcy will be very long and potentially will not come to fruition.”
The federal government has said little about the incident. The Marshals Service last year said it typically does not release the names of employees involved in use of force incidents “until the conclusion of all investigations surrounding the incidents, or unless charged criminally as the result of investigations surrounding the incidents.”
— Noelle Crombie; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-276-7184; @noellecrombie