FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 22, 2021
Lauren Regan, Executive Director and Senior Staff Attorney
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Marianne Dugan, Senior Staff Attorney
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CLDC Amends Civil Rights Suit After New Details About Police Misconduct Uncovered
Eugene, OR — Today, attorneys with the Civil Liberties Defense Center amended their federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Eugene and its police department for violating the constitutional rights of its residents during the May 31, 2020, nationwide mobilizations for Black Lives. Initially filed in July 2020, the amended complaint names the individual officers who violated the plaintiffs’ rights now that that information has been uncovered through the “discovery” process.
At least one of the Eugene police officers accused of police misconduct, excessive force, and violating the constitutional rights of protestors is a repeat offender within the EPD. Sgt William (Bill) Solesbee was a defendant in numerous prior federal civil rights lawsuits where he abused the power of his status as a police officer and demonstrated bias, disdain, and excessive force against local activists. Solesbee should either be removed from the force or put on desk duty as a result of his repeated and costly civil rights abuses over the years.
In the current federal lawsuit, documents produced by the City of Eugene clarified which officers committed which civil rights violations when they deployed a military-style response and city-wide curfews after an isolated incident of property destruction connected to the protests. Officer Solesbee shot at least four people and has admitted to hitting one person as well as the door of the Campbell Club, where two of the plaintiffs in the CLDC lawsuit live.
The constitutional violations alleged in this complaint occurred on May 31, 2020, amidst growing protests for Black lives after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others at the hands of police officers. In response to local protests, EPD used indiscriminate, malicious, and brutally excessive force against protestors, journalists, and even people on their porches and in their homes. Law enforcement deployed 40 mm plastic-tipped shotgun shells (so-called “foam rounds”) and chemical munitions (teargas and pepper gas) from the turrets of militarized vehicles (Lenco Bearcats), as they marauded through the city streets using a series of draconian and unconstitutional curfews to justify the uses of force and arrest of several people, including plaintiffs. Taken together, these actions resulted in violations of many people’s rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
“One thing that repeatedly leapt off the page of the civil discovery documents was a name that we have all seen far too many times in association with police brutality against protestors – Sgt. William Solesbee,” said Lauren Regan, director and attorney with the Civil Liberties Defense Center.
In a prior federal civil rights lawsuit brought by CLDC, Solesbee was found guilty of using excessive force and violating the rights of a protester (Josh Schlossberg.) Solesbee has been a defendant in at least four other police misconduct lawsuits and was the subject of public outrage and media scrutiny when he assaulted and injured a person who was peacefully protesting the use of pesticides (Ian van Ornum) at Kesey Square. After each abuse, CLDC and others demanded that the City of Eugene and police department remove Solesbee from the streets so that he could not continue to injure and abuse the people of this community. They refused, defended his misconduct repeatedly, and now, once again, Solesbee’s misconduct will result in liability for the City and police department.
At recent public meetings of the Civilian Review Board, it was disclosed that during the May 31 Eugene protest for Black Lives, this SWAT commander was the only officer to shoot the 40 mm rounds – which the Eugene Police Auditor has accurately described as shotgun shells with a thin piece of plastic at the top – at people and property. But his name was not publicly disclosed until now. The Police Auditor found Solesbee’s actions to violate policy, and police chief Skinner stated that the City had inadequately trained him, calling the events “an organizational failure.” Shockingly, this violent man is not only still on the force after decades of repeated violations, he is himself a trainer at the Eugene police department.
“It’s difficult to take City Manager Medary’s and Chief Skinner’s public pledges of police ‘reform’ seriously when this is the guy they put on point for community protests and for training future generations of law enforcement,” said Marianne Dugan, a Senior Staff Attorney with the Civil Liberties Defense Center.
“It is no wonder there are so many acts of police misconduct within the department when repeated lawbreakers like Solesbee are not only kept on the force, but are found to be “within policy” by the Department, and tasked with both training new cops and overseeing the SWAT marauding that took place on our streets on May 31. Clearly Solesbee cannot discern the difference between civil protest and combat in a war zone. This person should not be allowed to use weaponry against our civilian population, and the failure of the City to recognize that and act to protect the people of this city speaks to the systemic issues they continue to hide from. It’s time for more than mere lip service regarding police accountability and reform,” said Lauren Regan, CLDC attorney with over 20 years of experience litigating federal civil rights cases in Eugene.
CLDC Staff Attorneys Lauren Regan, Marianne Dugan, are representing the plaintiffs in this pursuit of justice. The organization continues to demand that the City engage in good faith negotiations to make meaningful changes in how community policing is conducted in Eugene.
“With this suit, CLDC seeks to affirm the right of people to exercise their First Amendment rights and to be free from fear of injury and arrest due to the overreach of the Eugene Police Department and its officers. Plaintiffs demand an end to the City’s policy allowing the use of chemical and impact munitions against protestors – and even the general public – whenever it wants,” said CLDC Executive Director and Senior Attorney Lauren Regan.
Civil Liberties Defense Center supports movements that seek to dismantle the political and economic structures at the root of social inequality and environmental destruction.