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Homeless Advocates, Police At Odds

Conrad Barney is arrested; Angela Bartow (left) was later arrested as well
Conrad Barney is arrested; Angela Bartow (left) was later arrested as well

An uneasy peace between authorities and homeless activists was threatened Sept. 11, as a series of incidents unfolded downtown and elsewhere.

Conrad Barney was up all night, planning a demonstration for the anniversary of 9/11. The activist with SLEEPS (Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep), who spent 57 days on hunger strike last winter to underscore the plight of the homeless, climbed a footbridge over Pearl Street, where he spray-fixed poster-drawn letters into a message — LIVE H8 FREE — across the walkway, which shadows Eugene’s homeless memorial.

“People need to be allowed to release their passion,” Barney says, adding that all government officials “know how to do is ignore us and put up fences.” Barney, who was then arrested for trespassing, yelled, “I am a messenger of love, peace, hope and freedom,” while taken into police custody. The mood there was tense, probably due to what had transpired only one block to the west and a few hours earlier.

“I had an agreement with them,” says Alley Valkyrie, SLEEPS police liaison. She expected a call from Eugene police officers before they approached SLEEPS members Rusty Savage and Joshua Tonkin at the Lane County Public Service Building. A Eugene Police Department spokesperson says that Savage and Tonkin had locked themselves in their tent and that their behavior precluded them from the benefit of a protest liaison. Still, Valkyrie says, “I told them. You’ve got people over here with mental illnesses and police-triggered emotional issues who have dealt with trauma.”

Witnessing the arrest of Savage and Tonkin, Larry Pleasant, a 55-year-old homeless man with documented behavioral health issues, crashed through a human police barricade. According to police and witnesses, Pleasant, while being subdued at each limb, kicked an officer in the head. Pleasant was arrested for assaulting the officer, while SLEEPS members Ashley Discharny and Angela Bartow were later arrested for interference and harassment.

Discharny says she was actually deescalating the situation. “I was there to protect police — to make sure they don’t get hurt.” Discharny, who says she was in a unique position to calm Pleasant, who trusts her, was pleading for him to stop kicking. “He was absolutely having a PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] moment,” she says.

Discharny, who had been wearing a walking cast as her broken foot heals, was “thrown off the pile” by an officer, and when she hit the ground, she says, it re-broke two bones. She had removed the cast in order to reach Pleasant faster. Discharny was then treated by Occupy Medical. Tonkin and Bartow sustained injuries they allege occurred in Lane County jail custody and were inflicted in response to “bogus” claims of noncompliance.

Tonkin has two broken fingers and a separated wrist. Bartow required stitches for a facial cut and has bruises across one shoulder. Both were treated at Sacred Heart Medical Center University District. A Lane County Sheriff’s Office corrections spokesperson could not comment on the specific injuries, but says, “Injuries sustained within our facility are reviewed to ensure … [safety and security] procedures have been followed.”

Eugene police, in an apparent crackdown following Pleasant’s outburst, simultaneously visited the Whoville #1 homeless camp, near Lane County Fairgrounds, where they seized camping bags and tents belonging to those not readily present. Officers also issued citations to four campers at a sister site on River Road.

Valkyrie says the whole homeless community is being punished for Pleasant’s actions and that, though she doesn’t condone violence by protesters, she believes police could have prevented the fiasco easily. Instead, she says, “They amped it up. They went in there like stormtroopers.”