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Van Ornum Taser Case Can Now Go To Appeal

In May 2008 Ian Van Ornum was Tasered by a Eugene police officer while prostrate on the ground. On Dec. 27, 2013, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that he could continue to pursue his appeal of his conviction for resisting arrest. The appeals court can either not take action, which would leave Van Ornum’s conviction standing, or decide to send the case back to trial court.

Laura Fine Moro, who was Van Ornum’s trial attorney, says the anti-pesticide rally that Van Ornum had helped organize and where he was participating in street theater “was a peaceful rally held in appreciation of the County Commission’s decision to limit the spraying of pesticides.” She adds that Van Ornum was part of a UO student group that “wanted to educate citizens about the good work of the commission and the dangers of pesticides.”

Van Ornum was dressed in a fake hazmat suit and spraying water out of a bottle on which someone had drawn a skull and crossbones. Moro says that police were called to the scene by Homeland Security, who had been monitoring local activist Day Owen and mistakenly believed that Owen’s rural anti-pesticide group the Pitchfork Rebellion was some sort of eco-terrorist group.

The state Supreme Court ruling centered on the judge having proposed instructions to the jury that said a police officer should determine the appropriate use of force. Van Ornum’s attorney proposed that that the jury should consider unreasonable force from the point of view of the person being arrested. Van Ornum was convicted but as he began his appeals process there was another case of a person resisting arrest after being pepper sprayed and punched by police. In that case, the Oregon Supreme Court instructed judges to tell juries to consider the issue from the point of view of the person being arrested, and that affects Van Ornum’s case.

Moro says that previously in the Oregon Court of Appeals, soon-to-be-retiring Judge David Schuman “wrote a searing dissent to the majority opinion” that had denied the appeal in the Van Ornum case and “the opinion of the Supreme Court clearly vindicates him.”

She says Van Ornum now lives in Southern Oregon with his partner and child and has become a bluegrass recording artist with his band Patchy Sanders.