Adding Insult to Injury

Even after false arrest, Portland man must pay up

Zachary Senn | 6/28/2017, 9:18 a.m.
All that James Lea wanted was a public apology from the Portland Police Bureau following his unwarranted arrest, during which ...
James Lea shows off his ’79 Chevrolet El Camino at Alberta Park in northeast Portland, the car he says was at the center of controversial racial profiling arrest Portland police made in 2011 when Lea while trying to park during the West Coast Hip Hop Awards at the Roseland Theatre, downtown. Police said they apprehended him because they saw a gun in the vehicle, a firearm he was licensed to carry. The charge was later dropped, but Lea is now facing $8,000 in legal bills after he sued and an appeals court ruled his detention was legal. Zachary Senn

A memorandum prepared by the court says that while “The officers’ approach was perhaps an overreaction,” that “Steinbronn’s use of force – which resulted in no physical injury to Lea – was reasonable.”

Lea, however, still describes the behavior of Steinbronn and the other officers as dangerous. He says that interactions like his can only serve to damage police-community relationships.

“I was still taken to the ground with guns to my head, even though they had my concealed carry permit in hand,” said Lea. “I didn’t know whether he was going to kill me at the time.”

Lea says that he was seeking a public apology, not money, by pursuing the lawsuit against the city.

“I went to jail for nothing, I was in ‘Busted’ and I wasn’t treated fairly,” said Lea. “He didn’t have a right to do that.”

Lea, who has accrued misdemeanor charges in the past, adds that there is a double standard for law enforcement officers who intimidate and racially profile suspects.

“When I used to be in the street and did things that were wrong, I had to stand up in court and apologize,” Lea explained. “That’s no more than they should to a citizen, right?”

In a statement issued to the Portland Observer, Rob Yamachika, the Deputy City Attorney who litigated the case, defended the court’s decision saying that it would not be fair to pass the legal fees of the case on to Portland’s taxpayers.

Lea, however, says that he is a taxpayer.

“I’ve worked most of my life here in Portland,” Lea said. “I pay my taxes like everyone else.”

The city has offered to reduce the court fees to $5,000 if Lea agrees to pay it in two installments before the end of the month. Lea says that he’s refusing to pay the fees, because that would acknowledge wrongdoing on his behalf.

“I did everything that I was supposed to do as a citizen,” Lea said, adding, “It can be erased if you can take it from $8,000 down to $5,000.”

In a letter addressed to Yamachika stating that Lea is rejecting the City’s offer to reduce the court fees to $5,000 his attorney, Benjamin Haile, explained that Lea wants to see police officers held accountable for unnecessary escalations.

“Lea brought this case against the city because he cares about improving his city and changing patterns of racial profiling by the PPB,” Haile wrote.

Lea says that the City Attorney’s office has rejected his requests to arrange a meeting with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. Yamachika responded to Haile’s letter by stating that while he empathizes with Lea’s attempt to improve the city, he didn’t see how the case was racially motivated.

While he is grateful that the incident in 2011 didn’t result in his death, Lea says that he feels stymied by a court system that is punishing him for reviewing a police officer’s unnecessary use of force.

“It’s about that officer apologizing to me,” said Lea. “I pay you guys, just like everybody else around here.”