Wednesday night (2/13), members of the Eugene Police Department arrested Eric Jackson at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza for misdemeanor Criminal Trespass II. Mr. Jackson was engaged in an ongoing protest against local law enforcement’s treatment of houseless individuals, the crisis facing houseless people, as well as the treatment of immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On February 12, Mr. Jackson (who is also houseless), was told by EPD personnel that if he did not leave the Free Speech Plaza prior to 11PM the following day, that he would be arrested and taken to jail. Despite the intimidation tactics by EPD, Mr. Jackson remained steadfast in his protest and reminded EPD personnel that he had a constitutional right to engage in this protest.
Mr. Jackson is correct. The CLDC has litigated the issue of free speech rights at the Free Speech Plaza on at least three occasions. In each challenge to the City of Eugene and Lane County’s attempts to limit constitutionally protected activity, we have prevailed. In 2013, EPD arrested 21 individuals at the Free Speech Plaza. The protestors were part of the “SLEEPS” campaign, which advocated for safer places to sleep for the houseless. After challenging the constitutionality of the 11PM-6AM curfew, Judge Karen Stenard, upholding the Constitutional rights of the protestors at the Plaza, held that “enforcement of a curfew which closes the very area that the county designated ‘Free Speech Plaza’ (much of which is barely distinguishable from a sidewalk) for a third of every day significantly limited defendants’ rights to speech and assembly, regardless of the curfew’s intent[.]” You can read about our past efforts regarding constitutional protections at the Free Speech Plaza here and here.
A CLDC attorney informed the officers that Mr. Jackson was engaged in protected speech activity, that the Free Speech Plaza is a traditional public forum, that officers had already been notified of the constitutional protections afforded to individuals engaging in protected speech at the Plaza, that there is an objective and pre-existing right to engage in protected activity between 11PM and 6AM at the Plaza, and that officers were aware of this right. CLDC then informed the officers that the arrest would be a violation of Mr. Jackson’s constitutional rights. Nevertheless, officers arrested Mr. Jackson and took him to jail. Mr. Jackson was released from custody yesterday afternoon.
Constitutional rights do not slumber. Terminating peoples’ First Amendment rights at 11pm is not a reasonable time, place and manner restriction upon this important freedom.