Oregon protesters allege Springfield Police Department conspired to violate civil rights laws

All Patriot NewsMarch 11, 20219min

A lawsuit filed against the Springfield Police Department alleges its officers conspired with local residents to harass and intimidate Black Lives Matter protesters last summer.

The case involves a July 29 protest in Springfield organized by Black Unity, a civil rights and anti-racism group based in Lane County, that was held in response to the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police on May 25.

The lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday in the U.S. District Court of Oregon, alleges that Springfield police officers patrolling the protest violated the group’s First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The lawsuit names Springfield Police Chief Richard Lewis in addition to command staff present at the protest, including three police lieutenants, three sergeants, and 17 officers. Four members of Black Unity are named as plaintiffs.

Beginning on July 28, one day before the July 29 protest, the lawsuit says that Springfield police went door to door alerting residents of Black Unity’s plan to protest the following day, claiming they needed their help to resist the event.

The department allegedly learned of the event through an hour-long encounter between a Springfield officer and a Black Unity member who was questioned by the officer while sitting in a car with a friend. The officer dismissed the woman’s concerns over a noose and Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag hanging outside of a Springfield home, the lawsuit states, and described Black Unity as a “mob” and a menace. He then told a resident who approached them of the July 29 event.

According to 2020 data collected by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, about 4{bb7f96def6ea40275edfc9c5cdba1e157486eb0adede12a05297cf43a9589e0a} of police stops in Springfield involved Black drivers, although 2019 U.S. Census data shows Black residents make up just 1{bb7f96def6ea40275edfc9c5cdba1e157486eb0adede12a05297cf43a9589e0a} of Springfield.

On the evening of July 29, Black Unity marchers traveling from Jesse Maine Memorial Park were met by Springfield police barricades at Dogwood and South 67th Street. Plaintiffs allege that protesters remained behind the barriers at all times as officers exchanged vulgarities with them, police body camera footage transcripts showed.

“These f****rs, I wanna lock even more of em’ up,” one Springfield officer allegedly said. Another allegedly described how a “stupid 12-year-old took it right in the f****n face.”

Throughout the night, Springfield police allegedly struck protesters gathered at the barriers, leaving one protester with a broken nose. Press were also denied access to the area, the lawsuit claims.

The July 29 protest also saw a number of armed far-right groups gathered at the site, according to the lawsuit. They included the Proud Boys, the American Patriot Front, and several alleged neo-Nazis, as shown in images taken from that night, which were included in court documents.

Plaintiffs allege further that Springfield police failed to intervene when far-right counter-protesters began attacking protesters, even as some could be overheard expressing their intent to “shoot” the protesters.

“The message from Defendants to Plaintiffs and other BLM supporters was clear: If you protest racist symbols (the noose) and/or the police treatment of Black lives in our town, we will not only attack you, but we will also allow and even encourage you to be attacked by Anti-BLM harassers,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges the events of July 29 represent a string of misconduct by the Springfield police. It brings up one example of an incident from June 26, during which Springfield police officers formed a human barricade cutting off marchers. Plaintiffs allege an officer reached inside a Black Unity truck and removed the keys from the ignition until later returning the key.

Plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages against the Springfield Police Department, reimbursement for legal fees, and injunctive relief in the form of a five-year plan by the department to reform its hiring, training, and disciplinary practices. The lawsuit awaits further action from a U.S. District Court judge.

This latest lawsuit is the most substantial litigation to be brought against Oregon law enforcement outside of Portland, where police face a host of lawsuits from protesters, civil rights advocates, and state prisoners for excessive force.

Members of the Oregon Legislature are also considering a number of bills this session ending a wide range of police practices, from the use of tear gas to legal protections from riot policing.

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