Two cases in Eugene Municipal Court this week revolved around protest, poop and constitutional free speech rights. Judge Karen Stenard heard testimony in a motion-to-dismiss hearing July 15 about two protests in the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza that involved the arrests of 21 people in one protest and activist Alley Valkyrie in another. Both were related to the group SLEEPS, which set up tents in the plaza to call attention to the plight of the homeless. The cases were heard on the same day as they subpoenaed the same witnesses.
Attorney Lauren Regan in her motion to dismiss the trespassing charges writes that closing the plaza and forcing the protesters to leave violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment as well as Article I of the Oregon Constitution.
Lane County Administrator Liane Richardson ordered the free speech plaza to be closed and controversially called for “disinfection” of the plaza. At the hearing, Valkyrie says, Richardson testified that she smelled human feces in planter boxes in the plaza within 24 hours of the closure order and had several coversations about it with the sheriff’s sergeant in charge of the clean up. But Valkyrie says the sheriff’s sergeant testified that he didn’t actually find any feces and that he smelled the feces after the barricades went up, which Valkyrie says would be two days later.
Valkyrie, who calls the feces testimony “poop fiction,” says that either way, there were no feces to be smelled. Protesters used nearby city bathrooms and had peacekeepers and a clean-up crew. “This is protocol at every protest,” she says. “You leave the place better than you found it.”
She also says she takes issue with the way that county prosecutor Daniel Barcovic “tried to invoke George Zimmerman” in his questions about if the peacekeepers were trained or carried weapons.
The poop issue is key because a public health hazard could be seen as a reasonable legal basis for closing the plaza. Valkyrie and the SLEEPS protesters maintain that free speech has no curfew. The case resumes July 18 but a ruling is not expected until later.