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EW! A Blog.

April 22, 2009 12:55 PM

The Eugene City Council voted 6-2 today to move forward with spending $16 million in reserves to move the police department to a commercial office building across the river next to the Eugene Country Club.

The motion was to bring back a purchase option for the privately owned building. “It’s the next logical step,” said Councilor Alan Zelenka.

The council vote defies the will of the voters who have defeated ballot measures for a new police station three times. Councilors Betty Taylor and George Brown opposed the motion. Councilors Alan Zelenka, George Poling, Jennifer Solomon, Chris Pryor, Andrea Ortiz and Mike Clark voted for it. Mayor Kitty Piercy votes only in case of a tie and did not take an intelligible position on the controversy.

April 20, 2009 04:39 PM

Eugene police arrested Dennis R. Thaut this morning, alleging that the 65-year-old securities investor had run a Ponzi scheme out of First Security Financial, according to a press release.

Police alleged Thaut's Ponzi scheme, run out of a prominent historic Victorian house on East 11th Ave., defrauded at least 20 mostly elderly victims of tens of thousands of dollars. Police arrested Thaut on 17 counts of Aggravated Theft in the First Degree.

April 17, 2009 04:39 PM

In a dramatic departure of longstanding city policy against urban sprawl and for supporting downtown and keeping it safe, Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz told the city council Thursday that he wants to move the entire Eugene police department out of downtown to a commercial office building across the river in North Eugene.

Ruiz said in a memo to the council that he would buy the isolated office building at 300 Country Club Road surrounded by surface parking lots from a private developer for $16 million. He said he would then spend $6 million more to move all city hall functions out of the current city hall building and into downtown space rented from other developers.

The $22 million expenditure plus unidentified millions more in annual rent payments and moving costs comes as the city has announced it will cut back on services to citizens and increase fees to close a widening budget gap of at least $12 million due to the deep recession. New offices, particularly free of downtown employee parking fees, is a top priority of city staff, but polls have shown taxpayers oppose the expenditure.

The Eugene City Council plans to vote on the big change in years of city hall planning without a public hearing on Wednesday. Based on past positions, the vote could be close.

April 16, 2009 01:46 PM

The jury went out for deliberation at about 2:30 pm today in the case of taser victim Ian Van Ornum.

The Eugene police have accused Van Ornum of slowing traffic and resisting arrest at an anti-pesticide protest last May. Many witnesses have accused the police of brutality in the arrest.

Police video in the case shows that Van Ornum was tasered twice while he lay on the ground with his arms pinned under his side or held behind his back. Van Ornum's doctor testified that he suffered a concussion.

April 16, 2009 04:09 PM

Police cell phone, dispatch and taser time stamps contradicted a Eugene police sergeant’s testimony that Ian Van Ornum caused a long traffic back-up during an anti-pesticide protest last May.

Van Ornum is on trial for allegedly slowing traffic (disorderly conduct) and resisting arrest at an anti-pesticide protest last May. Many witnesses have accused the police of brutality in the arrest. Police video in the case shows that Van Ornum was tasered twice in the back while he lay on the ground face first with his arms pinned under his side or held behind him by police.

Eugene Police Sergeant Bill Solesbee testified at the trial that before the arrest Van Ornum backed up traffic two blocks. The police officer swore under oath that it took him seven to 15 minutes to drive through the backed up traffic to the Broadway and Willamette plaza.

But police cell phone records and taser gun time stamps obtained by the defense indicate such a delay is impossible.

Solesbee’s cell phone records and police dispatch records indicate that Solesbee called police dispatch at 1:12 pm before leaving for the protest. Police taser gun time stamps indicate that Van Ornum was tasered by another officer while Solesbee was arresting him at 1:16 pm. That’s four minutes later, not the seven to 15 minutes Solesbee testified.

Defense lawyer Laura Fine pointed out that in the documented four minutes, Solesbee testified that he drove to the scene, talked to Van Ornum for about 30 seconds, drove around the block, parked and moved Van Ornum across the street.

Under cross examination Solesbee admitted, “I’m really not very good on time as you can see by my testimony.” But Solesbee maintained the traffic delay was “outrageous.”

Fine told the jury in her closing argument that the documented discrepancies should cast doubt on Solesbee’s entire testimony that Van Ornum was slowing traffic and resisting arrest. “He can’t be relied on.”

Prosecutor Bob Lane shrugged off the time discrepancy in his closing. Lane said that actor John Belushi’s watch was not accurate in the movie Animal House.

The jury has been deliberating on a verdict since 2:30 pm today.

April 16, 2009 03:35 PM

The trial of taser victim Ian Van Ornum was called back on the record at 4:35 pm. No word on a verdict yet.

April 16, 2009 03:45 PM

The jury in the trial of taser victim Ian Van Ornum has asked, "what if we don't agree on the verdict," according to the judge.

Judge Jack Billings said he told the jury, deliberating for the past two hours, that not agreeing unanimously would result in a mistrial and the case would "likely" be tried again by another jury.

Billings said the jury told him, "they are making headway." The judge told the lawyers in the case to remain available as the jury result may come "relatively soon."

April 16, 2009 04:41 PM

(Ian Van Ornum photo by KVAL)

The jury in the trial of taser victim Ian Van Ornum found him guilty of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Van Ornum said that he was disappointed and surprised in the verdict, but declined further comment at this time.

The judge scheduled sentencing for 11 am next Friday, April 24.

Van Ornum said he didn't know what possible sentence he faced. His attorneys declined comment to reporters.

Prosecutor Bob Lane left the courtroom quickly without comment.

The Eugene police accused Van Ornum of slowing traffic (disorderly conduct) and resisting arrest at an anti-pesticide protest last May. Many witnesses have accused the police of brutality in the arrest.

Police video in the case shows that Van Ornum was tasered twice while he lay face down on the ground with his arms pinned under his side or held behind his back. Van Ornum's doctor testified that he suffered a concussion.

Prosecutor Lane told the jury in his closing argument earlier today that whether or not the tasering was justified was “irrelevant” to the criminal charges. “There might be an argument to be made that not everything the defendant did justified being tased,” he said.

But Lane said the brutality complaint was a matter not for the criminal trial but for the city of Eugene’s police auditor and or a civil lawsuit. “I don’t live in the city of Eugene, so it’s not my money. I don’t care,” the county prosecutor said.

April 16, 2009 04:39 PM

The jury in the trial of taser victim Ian Van Ornum found him guilty of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

April 15, 2009 06:19 PM

(Police taser gun video from KVAL)

A police taser gun video shows that a Eugene officer shocked a protester with 50,000 volts once for five seconds and then shocked him again 11 seconds later for another five seconds while the protester lay largely immobile, face down with his thin arms twisted behind his back or pinned under his side.

The police video was shown in stop motion at the trial of Ian Van Ornum today. Police allege Van Ornum slowed traffic at a pesticide rally last May and resisted arrest. Numerous witnesses alleged police brutality at the Broadway and Willamette event.

Eugene Police Officer Judson Warden testified for the prosecution that pesticide protester Van Ornum was “struggling” with officers and “swung his arms” with a handcuff on one wrist that the officer feared could be “used as weapon.”

But defense attorney Laura Fine confronted Warden with video from the officer’s own stun gun. After watching the video, Warden admitted that after the first tasing and a second before the officer tased him again, “it looks like both hands are behind his back.”

The tasings appeared to cause involuntary muscle spasms during their five second durations. “It appears that he’s in pain,” Warden said of his gun video.

Asked about the discrepancy between his earlier sworn testimony and the video from his own gun, Warden said he was “stressed” with menacing protestors during the arrest, “there’s so much going on.” Warden said he was “very scared.”

The three burly police officers at the scene did not draw their automatic handguns. The police guns are capable of emptying a large magazine in seconds. The protesters were unarmed. Testimony at the trial indicated there were as few as a dozen pesticide protesters at the noon rally which officers described as “peaceful” until the taser arrest.

Two other protesters plead guilty to attempted assault of the police while Van Ornum was being tasered on the ground. Van Ornum was not charged with trying to attack police and no police were injured.

Protester Anthony Farley, a former Eagle Scout now studying at the UO, admitted at the trial that he wrongly “pushed” Officer Warden at the rally after observing what he alleged was unjustified police brutality against his friend Van Ornum. “I was overwhelmed with emotion.”

Police admitted twisting Van Ornum’s arms, pulling his hair and shoving him against a wall and to the ground before tasering him in the process of arresting him for the misdemeanor charge of impeding traffic. Van Ornum’s attorney said he suffered a concussion.

April 15, 2009 12:16 PM

(Police Sgt. Bill Solesbee, KVAL pool photo)

After an anti-pesticide protest ended in a police tasering last May, the Eugene Police department issued a misleading press release that has been largely refuted by sworn police officer testimony this week.

The May 30, 2008 press release stated that taser victim Ian Van Ornum “was dressed as an exterminator and was spraying unknown liquid in the street. When the officer contacted him, he said he couldn’t be arrested and raised the wand toward the officer asking, 'Do you want poison in your face?'”

The press release, widely quoted in The Register-Guard and local TV news, implied that officers thought Van Ornum was threatening to spray them in the face with poison. Readers repeated the impression in letters to the editor. The EPD did not issue another press release to correct the impression.

But Eugene Police Sgt. Bill Solesbee testified at Van Ornum’s trial yesterday that he was the officer described in the press release and was not concerned Van Ornum would spray him with poison.

Asked if he was concerned about the sprayer, Solesbee testified, “no, not really.” The officer noted that if he was concerned he would have rolled up his SUV window but did not. Solesbee said he left the garden sprayer at the scene. “It’s not a crucial piece of evidence.”

Tom Keedy, an officer with the Department of Homeland Security who originally called for the EPD to intervene in the protest, also testified that he wasn’t concerned that Van Ornum had poison. Because the protest was against pesticides, “I assumed it’s innocuous,” Keedy said.

The EPD press release also described Van Ornum as “fighting” with police. But Solesbee and other officers in the case did not testify that Van Ornum struck or attempted to strike them, a common definition of fighting. Van Ornum was not charged with assault but with resisting arrest.

Solesbee testified that Van Ornum resisted being handcuffed, but did not say Van Ornum struck or attempted to strike an officer. “Did I square up and have a punching match with him? No,” he said.

April 14, 2009 04:25 PM

KVAL photo

(Video still of Ian Van Ornum and his defense lawyer by KVAL.)

The trial of taser victim Ian Van Ornum began today with testimony of a Homeland Security officer and Eugene police officer and the judge's ejection of an independent video taker from the court room.

Judge Jack Billings alleged that Tim Lewis, who regularly posts video on YouTube, had video taped members of the jury outside the courtroom in violation of a court order. Billings barred Lewis from observing the trial.

Van Ornum is charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest at an anti-pesticide protest last May. Protesters and Van Ornum allege that police used excessive force in twisting his arms, pulling his hair, giving him a concussion and tasering him twice. The trial is expected to continue through Friday.

The trial was originally set for Eugene municipal court with the city prosecutor. But the county district attorney decided to try the case instead in state court in a move protesters alleged was a political decision in response to their charges of excessive force.

The decision to elevate the municipal court case was unusual and came at a time that the district attorney and judges are claiming that they lack sufficient resources to try and prosecute burglars and dangerous felons. The DA case has effectively delayed an independent investigation of the charges of excessive force by the Eugene police auditor for almost a year.

Assistant District Attorney Bob Lane said in his opening statement today that the force used against Van Onum was justified by the protester’s resistance to arrest for slowing traffic through the Broadway and Willamette intersection. “This case is going to be an attempt to portray these officers as bad people,” Lane said. “There’s one person who’s to blame, the defendant.”

Van Ornum’s defense attorney Laura Fine said in her opening that police intervened in a peaceful protest in support of a county action to reform pesticide use. Police pulled Van Ornum’s hair, she said, “he was thrown against a wall, he was thrown against the ground.” She Van Ornum was later treated for a concussion.

Fine said police tasered Van Ornum with 50,000 volts twice within 30 seconds. “My client was subject to excessive force.”

April 13, 2009 08:50 PM

The Eugene City Council voted 7-1 to change the city's position on a proposed law allowing bikes to carefully yield and roll through stop signs from opposition to neutral.

A proposal to change the position to support the state legislation failed 5-3. Proponents said the law has worked successfully in Idaho for almost two decades and should also be enacted in Oregon.

April 13, 2009 08:32 PM

The Eugene City Council voted unanimously tonight to approve a grant application for a world-class skateboard park under the Washington-Jefferson viaduct.