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Phil Sano Taser incident goes to trial next week

Posted by on February 4th, 2009 at 11:03 am

Photo from the scene on June 10th, 2008.
(Photo: Ian Stude)

Back in June, Portlander Phil Sano was tackled and then Tasered repeatedly by two Portland Police Bureau officers while riding his bicycle on SE 7th Avenue. The police maintain he failed to obey their orders and then resisted arrest. Sano says they failed to identify themselves and then used excessive force to subdue him.

Next week, the Portland District Attorney’s office will present a criminal case against Sano.

The DA will try to prove that Sano is guilty of resisting arrest. This is the second time Sano has been in court for this incident. Back in September, he was found guilty of two traffic citations (failure to obey a police officer and not having a bike light) and was ordered to pay $285 in fines.

Story continues below


At around 9:30 pm on June 10th, Sano was riding north on SE 7th. As he approached SE Morrison, the Portland Police Bureau says he was told to stop for not having a front light on his bike. When Sano refused, an officer tackled him and then used a Taser gun repeatedly in an effort to subdue him.

Phil Sano in April 2008.
(Photo © J. Maus)

On June 11th, The Oregonian reported that the police say they did not use their Taser guns until Sano became “combative”.

Sano — who has retained lawyer John E. Gutbezah to represent him — stopped by our office yesterday (he’s working on a documentary about Critical Mass with Joe Biel) and I asked him about the case. Sano said he thinks the DA’s office is bringing this case to trial in an attempt to preempt him from seeking a civil lawsuit against the city.

“If they win this case against me,” he said, “it will make it much harder for me to file a civil lawsuit against them.”

As to whether or not he’ll sue, Sano says he’s still considering it. Sano still maintains that excessive force was used (he suffered several wounds from the Tasers and the altercation). He said that changing laws is unlikely to prevent this from happening again and added that, “The only way I could change things is by suing the system…I don’t want this to happen to anyone else again. If it does, I’ve failed.”

Witnesses are likely to play a big role in the DA’s case against Sano. Back in November, I was served with a court order from the DA’s office requiring me to turn over the contact information of a commenter who wrote that they had witnessed the altercation (I refused the information, but the witness eventually came forward voluntarily. Read more about it in this story in the Portland Mercury). Another witness, a woman who was pulled over at the time for not having a light on her bike, has also come forward.

Back in September, Portland Police spokesman Brian Schmautz told us, “Don’t judge the suspect or the officers at this point, let’s let the system work. The officers have a job to do and Mr. Sano will have his side heard at the appropriate time and place.”

We’ll keep you posted on how the trial goes.

— Browse our “Phil Sano Tasering Incident” tag for previous coverage of this story.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • a.O February 4, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Did you check with the government, via Commissar DA Lufkin, on whether it was OK for you to publish anything on this story first? LOL.

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  • Paul Tay February 4, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Rev. Phil Sano = Rev. Martin Luther King Jr./Rosa Parks/Nelson Mandela on two-wheels.

    Speak UP for Rev. Phil, people!

    In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
    And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
    And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
    And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
    Pastor Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller, Dachau, 1945

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  • dave_2009@Comcast.net February 4, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Post #2 made me laugh. What absurdity!

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  • Dag February 4, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    To me this has less to do with bicycles than with the disturbing trend of increased use of tasers by police. These officers could surely have obtained Phil’s cooperation without using these weapons, and their resort to violence in a traffic stop (a traffic stop!) showed a deep disrespect for human dignity that is unacceptable in officers of the peace in a civilized society.

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  • E February 4, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    How, exactly, is Rev Phil equivalent to MLK et al? I just want to know.

    I fully support his case, and his lawsuit. One cannot “resist arrest” if one does not KNOW his attackers are police officers. When people in power behave unjustly, it is our duty to see that there are consequences. Assuming what he says is true; I do not personally have all the facts.

    Good luck.

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  • Paul Tay February 4, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Dave, #3, which is MORE absurd? Cops busting on citizens with bogus “probable” causes OR a call for JUSTICE.

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  • bahueh February 4, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    #2…I seriously hope you don’t honesetly believe that.

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  • Paul Tay February 4, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    #7, I DO. With all due respect, cyclists are still N****** of the roadway.

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  • nature boy February 4, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    F*** PPD PR officer Brian Schmautz. This is a case of the cops pressing charges to cover up the criminal actions of one of their own. This is an atrocity to justice that this farce has been allowed to go on this long. If Rev. Phil is found guilty, the only thing to be learned from the incident will be” evade the cops at all cost. They mean you harm and will LIE to cover up their misdeeds.”

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  • Matthew Denton February 4, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Dag #4, I agree. The Mercury has a great article about how the police seem to be rather taser happy:

    The end is great:
    “Tasers were initially introduced in Portland following a high-profile officer-involved shooting—suggesting the intention they would be used instead of drawing a gun. However, another major city’s experience does beg the question: Are Tasers necessary at all?

    “We don’t have Tasers,” says Sergeant Lyn Tomioka, public information officer for the San Francisco Police Department, when I call to compare Portland’s statistics with theirs. “The idea has been presented to us, but I guess the statistical research has not been worth spending that much money on them.”

    Asked how many officer-involved shootings there have been in San Francisco over the past year, Tomioka says “two.”

    The exact same number as Portland.”

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  • Joe Rowe February 4, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    One major point here is that the officers were not “displaying” a “star or badge” to someone on a bike. Rev. Phill is chared with ORS 811.535 and the law stages “displaying” and “star or badge”

    Case closed in my mind.

    We need to let the rule of law move forward. I would like to see the city police leadership cosign a letter of understanding. No cyclist should ever be yanked off their bike by a law officer unless they are a clear danger to themselves, others, or impeding an investigation. Yanking and Tazering are even more unacceptable.

    If the courts rule against Rev. Phil, then cops on foot would have the liberty to yank and tazer anyone they deemed illegal: car driver, cyclist in critical mass, teenager, homeless person, person with mental sickness wandering. You name it.

    If the courts rule against this they set a precedent that goes against the law and that says there is no need to display a badge if a badge is worn anywhere, even if out of view to the person of alleged illegal behavior.

    FYI – The conditions on that day:
    Dusk-Dark ( often worse visibility than Dark )

    Unmarked cop car

    Cops 20-40 feet away from their car,

    Cyclist violently pulled off bike and remained calm, ( from his own pre-trial testimony )

    Cyclist tazered and did not show any physical retrobution, only verbal commentary

    A legal alternative: cops should use their radio, or get in their patrol car and turned on their lights to pull someone over.

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  • yo February 4, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Paul Tay has an overblown sense of oppression. There is a BIG difference between on cop being a jackass and the subjugation and/or genocide of a race.
    A wrong was done, granted, but not all wrongs rank the same.
    Get some perspective dude!

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  • toddistic February 4, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Paul Tag @ 2

    Martin Luther King gave his LIFE for equal rights for all men (and women). I’m sorry, there is no logical equation between Sano and King.

    I would recommend if you ever want to be taken seriously that you tone it down a bit.

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  • T27 February 4, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    This incident prompted me to learn more about Tasers and police policies. Summarizing what I learned:

    The manufacturer and police departments describe Tasers as a less lethal (not non-lethal) self-defense tool.

    Police policy does not permit the use of Tasers for eliciting compliance from suspects.

    Due to the risk to police officers, suspects and bystanders, it is against police policy to engage in foot pursuit for minor infractions

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  • Paul Tay February 4, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Sano is MLK on two-wheels, is all I’m saying. The man’s seems to be willing to take it on the chin to push the envelop for the rest of us.

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  • toddistic February 4, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Tay @ 15,

    Please explain how he is pushing the envelop for the “rest of us”. He got tazed, wrongly, that doesn’t make him a prophet. MLK on the other hand, gave his life for social equality. Being tazed does not equal forfeiting someone’s life for what they believe.

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  • Dan Reed Miller February 4, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    I’m sure Phil would blush to hear himself compared to MLK, but all that aside, it seems obvious to me (just on an intuitive level) that in prosecuting this case the Powers are trying (misguidedly and in defense of what we hope will be found an abuse of police powers) to assert control over what they perceive as an unruly, “anarchistic” and (to them) inherently dangerous, element of society, as embodied in the person of Phil Sano. The Rev of course has been “known” to push envelopes here and there, and this is not the first time he has gone to the mat/courtroom on behalf of a much wider public of freewheeling bikey people who themselves take much benefit from the courage of those who are willing to “ride the edge.”

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  • bahueh February 4, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    I don’t really think I need Sano pushing the envelop for me, thanks though…

    MLK/Ghandi/Mandela all accomplished societal change quietly, peacefully, and methodically…I don’t see that same approach bein taken by this dude. sorry.
    the comparison is silly at best…and insulting to the rest of us who initiate change through our quiet daily actions, at worse. I’ve influenced more people to exercise and ride to bike commute simply by showing them it can be done, than any other action.
    having an overblown sense of importance doesn’t typically support any larger cause…

    as for the tasing, I hope the dude gets off in a record short trial. I really doubt the cops even knew who he was when they tackled him…which means they could have done it to any of us.

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  • Matthew Denton February 4, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    T27 #14
    “Police policy does not permit the use of Tasers for eliciting compliance from suspects.”

    Where did you find that? I mean, the Police tased some drunk woman last weekend when she wouldn’t be calm enough to let them handcuff her, so…

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  • joel February 4, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    paul tay, your sense of hyperbole is the most stunning thing ever witnessed in the history of the universe.

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  • Beefa February 4, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    On the facade of the Justice Centre on the 3rd street side, it reads: ” An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, or something to that effect. This may be what #2 is trying to get at.

    Hey Phil, I hope it works out for you.
    Are you still going snow camping with us if it does not?

    Who here thinks “The Justice Centre” sounds a little Orwellian?

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  • dave February 4, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Mr. Tay,

    I want to keep this about the issue and what appears to be the PoPo being completely out of line…again, but your posts are foolish. Seriously, read a couple history books on the people you are compairing Phil Sano too. Perhaps a poor Larry Flint with use of his legs is a better comparison?

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  • Oh Word? February 4, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I agree with #12.. and I think Oscar Grant would too- he was murdered by the BART transit police.

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  • Paul Tay February 4, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    #18 et al, MLK, Ghandi, and Mandela all got the CRAP kicked outta them, before the powers that be CAPITULATED. If you review the archive footage again, it don’t look very quiet or peacefully to me.

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  • Bridger February 4, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    I think Paul Tay is a funny dude with a penchant for dramatic comparisons. We should be glad for the richness these perspectives provide. Chronically-serious defenders against such metaphors are just as hilarious. Besides, Phil and MLK are both Reverends, right?

    Just had to point that out. I love bike culture in all its forms. Thanks Portland!

    Go Phil!

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  • Paul Tay February 4, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    I think Rev. Phil should do a black face to push the issue. 😛

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  • chris February 4, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Why use violence to counter a nonviolent offender?

    To me, this is that simple.

    Violence crosses a line. What if Phil was a different sort of person AND had a gun whilst not recognising his assailants?

    We are very lucky indeed.

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  • HHRabbit February 4, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    MLK Ghandi and Mandela, had the stones and the bravery not to piss all over themselves and squeal like a frightened school girl over their treatment.

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  • One Less :( February 5, 2009 at 9:02 am

    I really find it funny that Portland Police spokesman Brian Schmautz told us, “Don’t judge the suspect or the officers at this point, let’s let the system work. The officers have a job to do and Mr. Sano will have his side heard at the appropriate time and place.”

    Wow, now only if they could do this with ALL of their officers reports. Where is this tact when a cyclist gets hit by a car or almost run over by a cop and then gets ticketed? I say if he can say this about one incident, then why not for them all? Oh, and why we are on it, how about eliminating the need to say whether or not a cyclist was wearing a helmet? I always find it funny that they include that tid bit (even when it has no bearing) but never tell us whether or not the driver of a car was wearing a seat belt!

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  • Believer February 5, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I nominate Rev. Phil as the next Jesus, as he transcends MLK, Ghandi, and Bob Hope combined.
    May he not die for our sins.

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  • timtim February 5, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    I think that there’s one thing all of you need to consider. The larger issue here is personal rights as citizens and particularly citizens of a controversial sub culture. I am without a doubt that if Rev Phil had been shot or run over with a police car in use of the same kind of excessive force that was used in his tazering, everyone making comments on this thread would be singing the sad and different tune of a funeral march. Why is it that only when people die for something they believe in the rest of us take notice. Shame on your mediocre attitude and(I’m guessing) middle classed existence! If you aren’t willing to go out and do something about your lives you might as well fall into a crionic tourper right now! Never to return! and let the rest of us get on with the passionate fury of love and vigor that is life!

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  • Paul Tay February 5, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    #31, tim tim, ditto. All hail citizens of a controversial sub culture.

    Let me be the FIRST to defend their right to offend, NOT their offensiveness.

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  • peejay February 5, 2009 at 5:53 pm


    Thanks for totally hijacking this thread, to most humorous effect! And I hope Rev Phil makes these officers look like the jackasses they are in court. For that, I’d pay for a seat in the courtroom!

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  • Paul Tay February 5, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Peejay, there’s no need to “pay” for a seat in the courtroom. The blood of your forefathers paid your admission fee.

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  • Donna February 5, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    I don’t like the tasers one bit. I also loathe these police uniforms that don’t look like police uniforms when it’s dark out.

    I can’t help but wonder how this situation would have turned out if none of the above had been an issue.

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  • buglas February 6, 2009 at 7:22 am

    Good luck, Phil. Remember that the court system isn’t about Truth and Justice. It’s about evidence and procedure. I hope your attorney is an anal s.o.b. who dots every “i” and crosses every “t” and doesn’t take anything the prosecution says at face value.

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  • Lee Norris February 8, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    What Phil should do is take a plea bargin. Around 94% of cases that go to trial are won by the D.A. The reason is that if they didnt have a solid case, they would not charge him.

    I am wondering why they are charging Phil again after he has been to court once. The D.A. probibly would have let the entire matter drop if he would have payed his fine made an appology and kept his mouth shut instead of threatening to sue them.

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