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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 9.4.08




Grand Injury

The end of the First Amendment in Eugene?

by Carly Barnicle

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. — Thomas Jefferson

With Ian Van Ornum, I organized the May 30 rally in support of the Lane County Commissioner’s moratorium on roadside pesticides. I witnessed the Eugene Police Department’s brutal actions toward and Tasering of my dear friend Ian. A grand jury was convened by Lane County District Attorney Harcleroad and his prosecutor, Assistant DA Robert Lane, to look into the rally, and I was issued a subpoena to testify in front of the grand jury.

A few people I work with were not supportive of testifying in front of the grand jury because they feel as if the grand jury system is a tool for the prosecutor and a legal method for the government to disrupt advocacy movements for the following reasons:

1) The witness is not allowed to bring his/her attorney in the room.

2) Witnesses have no “right to remain silent” and can be imprisoned for exercising this right.

3) The grand jury is subject to manipulation by the DA and therefore can be extremely biased.

Yet I saw my chance to testify as a golden opportunity. I felt as if I had a chance to shed light on the truth and expose the EPD’s crime of using unnecessary and deadly force to beat and Tase Ian. I still wanted to testify despite the hesitations other concerned citizens had about the grand jury system. They were worried about my testifying because in the past they said grand juries had been subject to manipulation. Yet I felt like my case was different because the DA actually called me, a witness who is not an officer or pro-EPD. I argued, “But this time the grand jury is not being manipulated.” 

I was wrong. I was never able to give my testimony to the jury before the indictments were handed out.

The fact is that no witnesses who filed complaints with the auditor testified before the grand jury. Multiple officers and pro-EPD witnesses along with others who had not filed a complaint to the auditor about police misconduct were the only ones who actually testified. So it’s easy to see how the grand jury was manipulated and influenced to hand down serious indictments against three involved UO students, Tony Farley, David Parziale and Ian Van Ornum, who were merely exercising their constitutional rights.

The charges the grand jury imposed on Tony and David include a felony riot charge. These serious charges could change their lives forever. After reading the indictment, I was at a loss for words. How could a grand jury that only heard testimonies from officers and pro-EPD witnesses issue such serious charges? How could they charge David and Tony with a felony without hearing from any witnesses who filed a complaint about police misconduct to the auditor?

This case confirmed to me the complaints I have heard about the grand jury system. The hesitations my colleagues had about testifying were justified, and the accusations I naïvely argued against were upheld. The grand jury should have been presented an equal number of witnesses on both sides so they could better decide whether to impose an indictment or not, and if yes, then to impose indictments appropriate to the actual circumstance.

The grand jury should have investigated the misconduct of the EPD officers who wrongfully arrested Ian, illegally dragging him by his hair to pull him away from the crowd, slamming his head into the concrete and Tasing him multiple times while he was prone and immobilized. Instead Harcleroad’s prosecutor, Robert Lane, manipulated the grand jury to pursue charges against peaceful students whose only crime was practicing their First Amendment right of free speech and right to assemble.

I cannot simply stand by while three innocent, involved young students are forced to face outrageously severe fabricated charges. Therefore, I am asking the mayor and the City Council as well as the residents of Eugene to speak out and take action against spying by Homeland Security on activists, EPD police brutality and a manipulated grand jury system, and support Tony, David and Ian and to free them from these charges.

 

Carly Barnicle is a student at the UO and co-director with Ian Van Ornum of Crazy People for Wild Places, a student social action group dedicated to resolving problematic issues in the world around us.