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Eugene Weekly : News : 6.5.08




Police Taser Protester

Many witnesses allege police brutality

by Alan Pittman

Witnesses alleged police brutality after Eugene police Tasered a protester at a peaceful May 30 anti-pesticide rally downtown and arrested three people.

About 40 citizens and 10 police officers showed up for the noon, Friday rally at the Broadway and Willamette plaza. Numerous citizen witnesses alleged that police threw UO student Ian Van Ornum, 19, to the ground, pulled his hair, kneed him in the back, slammed his head into the pavement and shocked him repeatedly after he was already subdued, in an act of unjustified brutality.

Ian Van Ornum after police Tasered him

“I believe that’s torture,” protester Josh Schlossberg said. Schlossberg said he did not see Van Ornum do anything illegal or that justified the arrest. “They repeatedly Tasered him after he was down,” he said. “I did not see him resisting.”

“When he was on the ground fully restrained, they Tasered him three times,” said protester Mary Stevens, adding that the city should be sued.

 “They were beating him,” said Carly Barnicle, who helped organize the rally with Van Ornum. She said Van Ornum is a very peaceful person and was doing nothing illegal or resisting and asking, “Why, why, why?” while police assaulted him.

The Eugene Police Department issued a press release describing their version of what happened at the “otherwise peaceful” rally. The EPD alleged that Van Ornum was blocking traffic and holding a sprayer. EPD alleged that when contacted by an officer, Van Ornum “raised the [sprayer] wand toward the officer asking, ‘Do you want poison in your face?’” EPD alleged Van Ornum “began fighting with the officers” and was Tasered and arrested for “resisting arrest” and “disorderly conduct.”

“That’s total horse shit,” said Schlossberg of the police press release. He and many other protesters said the sprayer was clearly a street theater prop full of water. “Of course, the last person to be using pesticide would be the people protesting using pesticide.”

If the police really thought the sprayer was poison, Schlossberg said, they would have taken it as evidence or to prevent misuse instead of leaving it in front of them. “The police were not in the least bit concerned about the sprayer.” 

Numerous citizens that witnessed the event said that Van Ornum was not doing anything illegal, fighting with officers, blocking traffic or resisting arrest. 

“He never stood in the crosswalk and blocked traffic; he was always moving,” said Tim Lewis.

The EPD alleged that after a crowd gathered at the arrest scene, Anthony Farley, 22, “swung his fists at the officers.” EPD arrested him for alleged “assault, interfering with a police officer and disorderly conduct.”

The EPD alleged that David “Day” Owen, 50, “ran at the officers in an attempt to interfere with the arrest.” The EPD arrested Owen alleging “interfering with a police officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.”

Numerous citizen witnesses said that Farley and Owen shouted their disapproval of the arrest along with others but did not assault officers or resist them or interfere with them or do anything illegal.

“We started yelling shame on you” and “Don’t hurt him,” Amy Pincus Merwin said.

Owen denied the charges. He said he stayed 10 feet away from Van Ornum’s arrest. Owen said he saw officers repeatedly slam Van Ornum’s head on the concrete with such force that he feared Van Ornum would suffer a brain injury.

Owen wrote in a statement that an officer “charged” him, twisted his arm and threw him to the ground, hitting his head and briefly knocking him unconscious and injuring his shoulder and back.

Owen said he was arrested about a half hour later, after police interrupted a television interview. He said he did not resist. 

Owen said while in the county jail, a guard “put his hand to my throat and screamed” for him to stop talking when he told a nurse how he was injured. 

Protesters said they planned to file official complaints with the new independent police auditor. 

Oregon ACLU Director Dave Fidanque said police should change their policy so that a Taser is only used in situations that could escalate to deadly force. 

Existing policy requires officers to get permission from the police chief or his designee before using a Taser on demonstrators. The EPD press release did not say if that was done. 

“I don’t think anybody seriously thought he was threatening police officers,” Fidanque said of Van Ornum’s street theater sprayer. “The police need to keep at the front of their minds that use of a Taser could cause death.”

Tasers fire 50,000 volts into victims, causing violent pain. Nationally, press reports have linked the controversial weapon to more than 70 deaths and hundreds of lawsuits and complaints of police abuse.

Lisa Arkin of the Oregon Toxics Alliance said the rally focused on praising efforts by the state, city and county to limit pesticide use and was carefully organized by UO students. “These were not kids looking to cause a problem.”    

Noon gatherings to support those arrested are planned for Thursday, June 5 from 12-3 pm at the UO EMU and on Saturday, June 7 at Willamette and Broadway.