Plaintiffs Suing City, EPD Want ‘Meaningful Change’ in Response to Police Violence

Jan 12, 2021

A screenshot from a video of people running in downtown Eugene after police officers fired a weapon in the direction of community members on May 31.
Credit Elizabeth Gabriel / KLCC News

A group of local plaintiffs represented by the Civil Liberties Defense Center who are suing the City of Eugene and the Eugene Police Department for during Black Lives Matter protests in late May.

 

The call comes after a group of President Donald Trump supporters and white nationalists invaded the U.S. Capitol to halt the election certification process on Jan. 6. Police department’s responses to mobs that stormed the national and state capitols have been more lenient in comparison to their reaction to Black Lives Matter supporters who protested this past summer.

On May 31, 2020, during local protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the City of Eugene authorized EPD to implement various tactics such as the use of rubber bullets, teargas and curfews, which many community members have deemed as excessive force. 

Longtime Eugene resident Erin Grady said the lawsuit is not just for the plaintiffs, but for all community members who have experienced police injustices, but do not feel safe coming forward. The group wants to stop the suppression of “protest movements about police with militarized police.”

The six plaintiffs include Grady, Kelsie Leith-Bowden, Hasheem Boudjerada, Tyler Hendry, Damon Cochran Salinas and Kirtis Ranesbottom — who identify as protesters, people who were providing legal support, community members attempting to leave curfew zones, and residents of a housing cooperative who experienced assaults on their homes by police officers. They said they experienced “serious physical injuries from impact munitions and chemical weapons, unwarranted arrests, imprisonment during a pandemic, and physical property destruction.”

Their case against the city was filed in July 2020. But after recent events at the national capitol and state capitals across the country, the group said it is trying to hold the city accountable for “unjust and unlawful” tactics used by police officers.

"The police attacked us — there’s no other way to say it. First, they attacked us in the streets, with pepper spray and tear gas, when we were peacefully practicing our First Amendment rights, with children in the crowd. Then, after we had made it home, they shot projectiles directly at our porch and front door, hitting our friend who was running to our door for shelter and knocking our door off its hinges. We weren't breaking any laws, and they attacked us, brutally, with weapons and with malice. They simply wanted to hurt us," said Ranesbottom, a member of the Campbell Club housing cooperative.

According to a press release written on behalf of the group, the plaintiffs want the City of Eugene to reevaluate their funding for EPD, as well as pass policies that would ban the use of city-wide curfews.

1.  Defund EPD – “The essentially secret budget for SWAT (it’s buried in the $32 million police patrol budget) needs to end. Redirect those funds to programs and organizations that will help solve the devastating problems we face in this city and raise quality of life for groups of people that are historically excluded and marginalized here.”

2. Demilitarize EPD – “It’s time for police departments to stop acting like they are enforcing a military occupation of hostile territory. We are calling for prohibitions on chemical and impact munitions for crowd control and significant community oversight regarding what is an appropriate use of force during nonviolent protests.”

3. Stop ordering unconstitutional curfews – “The city’s curfew law was written to deal with things like natural disasters and other crises that might make being outside unsafe — and even in such instances a citywide curfew would be questionable. To permit an unelected, unqualified City Manager to invoke blanket curfews to quell the exercise of free speech is not only a violation of protester’s rights; it is also a violation of the rights of everyone who lives in the city.”

“For far too long, liberal-leaning cities like Eugene have allowed their police departments free reign to terrorize residents — particularly BIPOC people,” said ” said Hendry. “It’s time for Eugene to align its ethics with what its leadership says they are, and that means defunding the police and instead supporting real community safety nets like Cahoots instead of militarized oppression of all but the wealthy and powerful.”

The group also wants more transparency in the police patrol budget, and to only see SWAT teams used in hostage or armed conflicts. The group wants the money from defunding the SWAT budget to go toward housing, community health and service projects that serve BIPOC and low-income communities.

“The City needs to stop using stalling strategies such as inaction, ignoring and repressing protest movements, and forming toothless committees for the purpose of ‘listening.’ Money talks, and we want to see money reallocated away from police and towards positive change,” said Grady.

CLDC Senior Staff Attorney Marianne Dugan said plaintiffs are not required to state an amount when filing a lawsuit in federal court, and in a civil case, plaintiffs can only receive money if their case wins. But she’s hoping this case will be different. 

“If they are willing to make some sort of offer to change their policies in some way and compensate the victims, then that’s a settlement we would certainly consider,” said Dugan. “And instead of going to trial, we’d dismiss the case voluntarily.”

Dugan hopes to begin depositions with the city in Feb. or Mar. 

 

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