FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 23, 2020
Marianne Dugan, CLDC Senior Staff Attorney
Cooper Brinson, CLDC Staff Attorney
(541) 687-9180 or firstname.lastname@example.org
(541) 735-6216 or email@example.com
Eugene Police Department Settles Excessive Force Lawsuit Brought by Journalist at Eugene Weekly
Eugene, OR—Yesterday the City of Eugene agreed to settle a federal civil rights case brought by one of CLDC’s clients, Eugene Weekly reporter Henry Houston. CLDC filed the lawsuit after Eugene police threw an exploding gas canister directly at Mr. Houston and then shot pepper balls at him and other journalists on May 31, 2020. Mr. Houston had identified himself as a journalist to militarized law enforcement several times before he was assaulted by the out of control officers, with officers saying “It doesn’t matter” before deploying munitions at him. The egregious incident was captured on video by Register Guard journalists as well as by Mr. Houston himself.
Based on video and eyewitness statements reviewed by CLDC, the assault on Mr. Houston fits a larger pattern and practice of EPD officers that weekend to maraud around the City, firing chemical and impact munitions at people without provocation and solely based on police claiming people were violating the unconstitutional curfews. The curfew on May 31 was just one of at least six draconian unconstitutional curfews issued by Eugene City Manager Sarah Medary during the May 31, 2020, weekend. The unconstitutional curfew orders provided cover for a police force apparently eager to assault protestors and to use their military surplus gear to roll around Eugene terrorizing residents.
The video of the incident involving Mr. Houston makes clear that his civil rights were violated. Nevertheless, Mr. Houston entered into settlement negotiations with the City in good faith that the City, Medary, and individual officers would recognize the harm they had caused and make necessary changes to ensure that the City and police will respect the civil rights of journalists and protestors in the future.
Seeing an opportunity to make change, Mr. Houston requested several non-monetary remedies, including concrete proposals to increase transparency over police and City decision-making when it comes to protests; changes in police policy regarding interactions with journalists; discipline for the officers who assaulted him; and an end to the use of bearcats and other military vehicles during protests. The City ignored those requests. Knowing that filing and settling a lawsuit, by itself, can shine a spotlight on police actions, and deter future misconduct, Mr. Houston agreed to settle his case for a relatively modest sum, despite injuries that sent him to the emergency room.
“An opportunity for justice isn’t always available for people of color, protesters, or journalists who have been targeted and injured by overzealous police. So I was privileged in that I was able to file a federal lawsuit against the city of Eugene and the police,” says Mr. Houston. “It’s unfortunate that this settlement did not create the much-needed policy changes that led me to file this suit, and I would have considered less money if the city had offered a change in policing. But I hope that money talks and that this will prevent future unchecked police aggression on journalists and protesters who are exercising their First Amendment rights.”
By refusing to consider Mr. Houston’s proposed policy changes, the City has demonstrated that it is committed to business as usual, which in this case means widespread unchecked dangerous police misconduct, and views civil rights violations like the ones suffered by Mr. Houston as a mere cost of doing “business.” Mr. Houston intends to donate a portion of the settlement to organizations like Cahoots and to other reporters facing government intimidation tactics.
This news comes after CLDC attorneys filed a second federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Eugene and its police department for violating the constitutional rights of its residents during protests this summer. Both lawsuits, filed in U.S. Federal District Court in Eugene, alleged that the City of Eugene, Medary, and members of the Eugene Police Department violated the rights of protesters and other community members when they deployed a military-style response and citywide curfews after an isolated incident of property destruction on May 29.
The information available to CLDC indicates that the same officers who assaulted Mr. Houston continued their assault on the residents of Eugene just after they attacked him. These officers went so far as to attack people trying to return to their homes and to fire tear gas, pepper balls, and impact munitions directly at an Alder Street residence. So-called “rubber bullets” knocked the door off its hinges, and residents on their porch who were clearly not violating the curfew were assaulted. Tear gas filled the residence and that of neighboring residences as a result of the officers’ actions.
While these individual officers have hid in anonymity since their citywide assault, Eugene residents can rest assured that as soon as their identities are confirmed, CLDC will amend the broader complaint to name the offending officers. CLDC is concerned that these officers may present a future threat and danger to the people of Eugene, and we feel that residents deserve to know their identities.
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