Alley Valkyrie said from the beginning that closing the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza was unconstitutional, and a recent ruling in Eugene Municipal Court has proven her right, she says. The arguments in court centered on poop, which makes for giggles, but Valkyrie’s attorney, Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, says it’s no laughing matter when someone’s free speech rights are being taken away.
“Whenever anybody’s constitutional rights are diminished, everybody’s rights are harmed,” Regan says.
Judge Karen Stenard dismissed the second-degree trespassing charge against Valkyrie Aug. 7. The protest arose out of work to protect the rights of the homeless by SLEEPS (Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep).
Regan alleges that fired Lane County Administrator Liane Richardson, who was responsible for closing the Free Speech Plaza, perjured herself on the stand. Regan says when she called Richardson to the stand, the administrator testified that she smelled human feces on Dec. 11 and talked to law enforcement, including Lieutenant Spencer Slater, who “confirmed that there was a smell of shit and feces and that was a public safety issue and a basis for closure.”
However, Regan says, when law enforcement took the stand, Slater testified that he smelled feces for the first time on Dec. 13 after Valkyrie was arrested and the crowd dispersed. Regan says that Richardson then emailed the County Commission and lied about the basis of the closure order.
Luckily the protesters had “abundant awesome evidence on everything they did or did not do on that plaza,” Regan says, which directly contradicted Richardson’s testimony and led the judge to rule that “even under the least strict analysis the five-day closure was not narrowly tailored to meet a compelling governmental interest and was thus unconstitutional.”
Regan says, “That is important because it really goes to show that when you have an overzealous public official not honoring the law and not complying with state and federal constitutions, they can take actions like this that grossly violate people’s rights.”
Regan says that one government employee’s “knee-jerk” reaction to a lawful protest has now resulted in the closure of the Free Speech Plaza — a traditional public forum — for one-third of the day, from 11 pm to 6 am. She says that Lane County commissioners need to correct this and withdraw the amendment in the Administrative Manual that Richardson made on her own and “go back to the prior language that honored the Free Speech Plaza.”
A ruling has not been made on the 22 protesters who later chose to get arrested to protest the curtailment of their constitutional rights.