Downtown jewelry store stripped of valuables by rioters intends to sue city

A longtime downtown jeweler intends to sue the City of Portland, alleging that the Police Bureau and city politicians failed to protect downtown merchants from thieves that broke into her store in a May 30 riot.

Noha Kassab, owner of Kassab Jewelers, filed a tort claim notice with the city last month. She claims the store was stripped of valuables, including $1.5 million worth of diamonds, rubies and other gems. Together with the damage to the store and its fixtures and lost profits, Kassab informed the city she will seek $2.5 million in damages.

The Kassab store was one of several high-end retailers hit by thieves in a wild spree of vandalism, arson and smash-and-grab late in the night of May 30. The night of plundering further scarred a downtown already burdened by COVID-19 restrictions, the associated recession and widespread homelessness.

Four months later, storefronts through much of downtown remain boarded up as demonstrations continued for weeks. During the day, some corners of downtown are eerily quiet due in large part to the fact that there are few tourists and so many former downtown workers are now laboring from home.

Kassab argues that in light of the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the violence that had erupted in several cities, city officials should have anticipated the worst when the demonstrations began here.

Instead, Kassab claims, the city and its police bureau “failed to plan or prepare for, and failed to adequately protect, downtown businesses.”

Four months since the riot, the city has unveiled a new partnership with downtown businesses to address the district’s many issues. As far as Noha Kassab is concerned, any program to restore downtown is a positive. But it does nothing to restore her losses.

The Kassabs’ alarm and security cameras showed that people were breaking into the store at about 1:07 a.m. Kassab’s sons went to the store to stand guard until the police arrived.

But downtown was in flames and police never stepped in.

“Over the course of the next hour, until approximately 2:09 a.m., the store was broken into, looted, and vandalized by over 100 individuals,” Kassab claims. “On multiple occasions, Portland police officers were within close proximity to the store (either outside on the sidewalk, driving by, or parked outside). Yet no Portland police officer intervened or took any step to secure the Store, despite the obvious theft occurring and extensive damage being done.”

The riot and break-ins came just as downtown retailers were hoping for the return of some degree of normalcy after an extended coronavirus shutdown. Some, like the Kassabs, had only been open nine days when their stores were hit on May 30.

Kassab apparently is the only merchant damaged by the riots to pursue the city for damages. Laura Oppenheimer, spokeswoman for Portland’s risk management unit, said the city has no “record of other claims filed by business owners for losses or damages related to downtown protests since late May.”

The criticism by downtown merchants has become a political problem for Mayor Ted Wheeler. In response, the city has unveiled a program to help downtown regain its lost luster. It will remove graffiti and trash, develop a “retail activation” plan intended to help downtown merchants and attract customers.

The plan will also bring 100 portable toilets to town. The toilets will be placed in areas with large homeless populations.

Kassab and her family continue to operate their suburban stores in the Washington Square Mall and Lake Oswego. They have not reopened the downtown location and Kassab said they haven’t decided if they will.

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