In April 2021, local houseless activist Eric Jackson filed an appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals to challenge and overturn Lane County’s oppressive closures of the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza in downtown Eugene. Jackson was convicted by a jury in late March 2021 after being arrested for protesting overnight at the plaza. At the heart of Jackson’s appeal is the County’s complete shutdown of the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza from 11pm to 6am — for an entire one-third of the day — seven days a week.
The CLDC represented Jackson and argued the curfew was unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment and the Oregon State Constitution, but the trial court rejected the arguments and instead poorly interpreted free speech protections in a narrowing and disappointing ruling. However, this curfew is just the latest County effort to close this important community free speech venue. Numerous prior unsuccessful and repressive County efforts to close the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza failed because courts ruled the closures to be unconstitutional.
On appeal, Jackson and the CLDC will petition a higher court to step in and uphold everyone’s First Amendment rights in public spaces.
“Patagonia 5”: Mosquito Fleet and Portland Rising Tide Activists
In December 2019, five “kayaktivists” with Mosquito Fleet and Portland Rising Tide were arrested for blockading part of the Port of Vancouver, WA, to stop a shipment of pipe intended to be used in an expansion of Canada’s Trans Mountain (TMX) pipeline. The climbers locked themselves to the dock where the shipment was slated to be delivered.
Mosquito Fleet’s mission is to “directly confront the fossil fuel industry by taking bold, disruptive action. This often means putting our bodies and our boats on the line to block the operation of fossil fuel infrastructure and demand change.” Portland Rising Tide “combines long-term strategic campaigning with educational events and direct action to build capacity against systems of oppression and climate chaos.” CLDC is proud to represent these bold climate defenders.
Direct Action Everywhere
Direct Action Everywhere is a global network of activists working to achieve animal liberation within their lifetimes. DXE activists regularly get arrested for exposing the brutality of industrial animal agriculture and engaging in open rescues at some of the largest factory farms in the world. CLDC currently represents DXE activists in cases in northern California and North Carolina.
CLDC Lawsuits Against Lane County Jail and Corizon Health
In 2016, CLDC filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Lane County, Oregon, and Corizon Health, Inc., on behalf of a client whose civil rights were violated when he was denied adequate mental health treatment and subjected to abusive conditions at the jail in Eugene, Oregon. To protect his privacy we are not publishing his name in this summary.
After a lengthy and thorough discovery process, we successfully defeated the defendants’ motion to throw the case out, and the court ruled that the lawsuit should move forward to trial. We then settled the case in 2018, obtaining compensation for our client while sparing him the stress of a lengthy jury trial.
The lawsuit alleged that Corizon (a private prison “healthcare” corporation), the County, and a county employee violated our client’s constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. We took on this case because we had observed a pattern of people being arrested and taken to the Lane County jail while in the throes of a mental health crisis, placed in a segregation cell and left for weeks without any mental health treatment. In several of these cases, charges were dropped. CLDC wanted the court to rule on the County’s obligation to take ill people to the hospital for care instead of locking them up in segregation.
Our client had no history of mental health issues and no criminal record. In 2014 our client began to suffer from the onset of a psychotic episode shortly after a change in his prescription medications. He was eventually arrested in the midst of a complete psychosis. All of his charges were later dropped. Like others, our client was taken to jail and immediately placed in solitary confinement. He remained in segregation, innocent of any crime, for 16 days until he was finally released and transported to the hospital where he received treatment.
While incarcerated, our client’s mattress was removed and he was not provided any of his vital prescription medications. He was regularly denied adequate food, showers, and hygiene products, and he was pepper-sprayed and beaten for actions clearly related to his psychosis. Throughout his incarceration, our client’s family and people at the local Department of Veteran’s Affairs pleaded with the jail to transfer him to a hospital so he could be diagnosed and treated. Our client never received mental or medical health care during his incarceration, and never even had his vitals checked, despite the fact that any normal human would be aware that he was in need of immediate care and treatment. As the days wore on, our client’s psychosis worsened and he lost over 30 pounds. For years after his release, our client was still haunted by the long-term effects of his solitary incarceration.
This is not the first time Corizon has been embroiled in similar litigation. Corizon is a for-profit corporation that contracts with states and municipalities to provide medical and mental health care to jails and prisons, earning huge profits for their shareholders. Estimates for Corizon’s net worth are hard to come by, but The Guardian estimates their revenue in 2015 was $1.55 billion.
Lane County entered into a contract with Corizon in 2012 to provide care at the jail, after CLDC successfully sued Lane County on behalf of another seriously mentally ill person, who was similarly left in a jail segregation cell until he was found unconscious and critically ill.
After we filed the 2016 lawsuit, the County declined to renew its contract with Corizon. The County cited concerns about actual cost savings and quality of care provided at the jail with Corizon. The County’s decision to sever ties came just after Corizon settled a claim related to the death of Kelly Green, another mentally ill person, at the Lane County jail, for $7 million.
The Southern Poverty Law Center wrote extensively about Green’s case as well as several other cases around the country involving Corizon. The SPLC noted that what happened in Mr. Green’s case and elsewhere with Corizon demonstrates what critics of private prison healthcare argue “is fundamentally wrong with a privatized prison health care system that, at its core, exists to generate profits for investors.” The report from the SPLC highlights the perverse incentive endemic to private prisons and private prison health care systems: In an effort to increase profits, private companies look for ways to cut costs and one way to decrease costs is to decrease services (or staff available for these services). As Oliver Hart, 2016 Nobel prize winner in Economics, and his co-authors have explained, the incentives for cutting costs at the expense of the quality of services are generally greater than the incentives to prioritize quality.
Counties and states across the country often cite cost-savings in their decisions to privatize jail and prison healthcare. However, the shift toward privatization in jail/prison healthcare appears more ideological than economic. Studies that have attempted to determine the actual cost-savings of governments using private prison contractors are inconclusive. A report from the Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution found that “existing studies that attempt to account for differences in the population show that private prisons do not offer clear cost savings or quality improvements.” Even the Justice Department, under Obama, recognized the need to phase out private prison prisons, with then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates writing that private prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and . . . they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.” The Trump administration, predictably, rescinded the DOJ’s policy of phasing out private prisons. If, after decades of privatization in the nation’s jails and prisons, there is not a clear answer to this question, perhaps it is time, given the perverse incentives, to rethink whether privatizing is the right choice.
According to Capt. Dan Buckwald, a Lane County jail commander, “[a] big portion of the folks who come in [the jail] are typically in some form of psychosis.” An estimated 60% of people housed at the jail suffer from some form of mental illness. County Officials, including former Lane County Sheriff Byron Trapp, have lamented that the jail has become the de facto “treatment” center for people with mental health issues. As Sheriff Trapp has said, this is “not the right way to address our mentally ill in the community.” We agree. A large part of the problem, according to several county officials, is the lack of funding for treatment outside of the jail. Perhaps one simple action we could take in Lane County is to demand that county officials prioritize funding for mental health treatment. We could also urge county officials to refuse to outsource basic government responsibilities to corporations who don’t seem to care what happens to prisoners so long as the profits keep rolling in.
Lastly, we need to start a discussion about the discretion of law enforcement in situations involving someone in the midst of a mental health crisis. This issue is complex, but if the position of law enforcement is that they have no choice but to take someone having an emergency mental health crisis directly to jail — even when that jail is incapable of providing treatment or transferring the person to the hospital, the alleged victim doesn’t want to press charges, and the probable cause determination is extremely weak — we must change that position.
No one, including law enforcement, seems pleased that the task of treating individuals with serious mental health issues rests primarily with the jail and law enforcement. But, as has often been the case with social problems, we cannot rely on law enforcement to solve this problem. We must take an active role ourselves and end these barbaric policies.
*People struggling with mental health issues or having a mental health emergency may find help by reaching out to these resources available in Lane County:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1 once you get through)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness help line: 1-800-950-6264
- National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-442-4673
- Trevor Lifeline (Crisis and Suicide Prevention help line for LGBTQ folks under 25): 1-866-488-7386