August 19, 2021

Contacts: Marianne Dugan or Lauren Regan, Senior Staff Attorneys

Springfield Police Engaged in Politically-Motivated Surveillance and Spying; CLDC Amends Lawsuit

Lane County, Oregon – In light of new evidence, on August 19, 2021, the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) and Black Unity moved to amend their lawsuit against the Springfield Police Department to include claims of unlawful spying and viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment and a little used Oregon Law, ORS 181A.250. The original lawsuit, filed in March 2021, centers on police misconduct against local Black Unity members who marched through the Springfield community of Thurston in 2020 to decry a noose hanging in a neighbor’s yard.

The Oregon statute specifically precludes law enforcement from gathering information about “political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, group, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership unless such information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities, and there are reasonable grounds to suspect the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct.” [1]

In response to the 2020 mobilizations for Black lives, the Springfield Police Department (SPD) collected and maintained information about protestors’ vehicles, family members, and political activities. In addition, SPD used officers to monitor Black Unity activists during marches and online. Ironically, SPD clearly understands its legal obligation to refrain from collecting such information when it comes to right wing extremists. In February 2021, SPD publicly cited this statute as a potential legal bar against monitoring active right-wing extremists in Springfield, despite the fact that some right-wing extremists were actually charged with crimes during the July 29, 2020 protest in the Thurston Hills neighborhood.[2]

“Political surveillance of progressive activists is nothing new. And even though spying is a frequently used dirty and illegal trick, it usually goes unpunished because activists either aren’t aware they are being so heavily monitored or they don’t know what they can do to stop the cops’ activities. We hope this lawsuit will help activists in Oregon, and across the country, realize there are legal tools available to them to try and stop this pervasive practice by law enforcement,” said Lauren Regan, CLDC Executive Director and Senior Staff Attorney.

CLDC’s new claims also allege that SPD discriminated against Black Unity activists because of their abolitionist and antiracist message. A (graphic) video compilation of police misconduct and collusion with local white supremacists at the protest at the heart of this complaint can be found HERE.

“The recent exodus of SPD’s Chief and a number of other officers due to misconduct is a clear sign that such bad behavior is widespread within the department, but so far the City of Springfield’s decisionmakers have done little to address the deep-seated, violent, racist cop culture that persists no matter who the figurehead is. It’s time for public servants to hold themselves and their police force accountable for these abuses and act to build true community-protective systems. While what happened that night in Thurston — and the related illegal surveillance — is a microcosm of what’s happening with our country’s long overdue reckoning with entrenched racism in law enforcement, it is also a particularly blatant example that must be met head on,” said inno smith of Black Unity. “We’re calling upon all of Springfield to look in the mirror and commit to purging such racism and discrimination from its police department.”

The amended complaint can be found HERE, and the original lawsuit can be found HERE.





The Civil Liberties Defense Center supports movements that seek to dismantle the political and economic structures at the root of social inequality and environmental destruction.