A jury has awarded Eleaqia McCrae $1.5 million in a lawsuit she filed against Salem in 2020.
McCrae, a Black woman, sued the city and the Salem Police Department, accusing officers of violating her civil rights, assaulting her and intentionally targeting Black people with deadly force during a protest following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
She attended a peaceful protest on May 31, 2020. They chanted and marched to and from the Capitol into downtown Salem.
But after nightfall, people unrelated to the peaceful march came in from side streets and began throwing objects into the crowd, McCrae’s attorney, Kevin Brague, said in the lawsuit. Soon the peaceful demonstrators were met by Salem police officers in “full militarized gear” with a SWAT team and armored vehicle.
McCrae said she, her sister and friend linked arms and silently knelt at the front of the march. Suddenly, police sirens blared. McCrae said she turned around to leave but was shot twice with rubber bullets.
She later accused Officer Robert Johnston of shooting “stinger” or “skip” rounds using a 40mm launcher at demonstrators, according to the federal lawsuit.
Salem officials at one point during court filings last year alleged McCrae was struck by an object thrown at police by another protester and not by an object from an officer.
The city, through lawyers Gerald Warren and Jennifer Gaddis, in June 2021 said McCrae’s injures, if any, were due to her own “negligent conduct by failing to disperse the area when the protests were no longer peaceful.”
The jury unanimously found McCrae proved that Johnston shot her in the eye and chest, and violated her “Fourth Amendment right not to be subjected to excessive force.” The jury agreed, however, that she did not prove by “preponderance of the evidence” that Johnston violated her First Amendment right to lawful assembly and that he committed battery against her.
The payout is for $250,000 in economic loss and $800,000 in non-economic loss, according to the jury verdict document.
“My client, Ms. Eleaqia McCrae, is very grateful for the jury and their recognition and validation of the facts and circumstances of this case,” Kevin Brague, McCrae’s attorney, said in an email.
McCrae said the injuries from the bullets caused permanent vision loss and an injury to her chest. She was diagnosed with retinal hemorrhage, macular hole and vitreous hemorrhage.
U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane threw out several of McCrae’s claims in an order published in late March, but left in place several other claims that were tried before the jury:
“We appreciate the jury’s work on this case and respect their verdict,” Salem officials said in a statement.
Gannett reporter Virginia Barreda contributed to this article.