EPD Tasers Environmental Protester

Witnesses alleged police brutality after Eugene officers tasered a protester at a peaceful anti-pesticide rally today downtown and arrested three people.

About 40 citizens and 10 police officers showed up for the noon rally Friday, May 30 at the Broadway and Willamette plaza. Numerous citizen witnesses alleged that police threw UO student Ian Van Ornum, 19, to the ground, pulled his hair, kneed him in the back, ground his face into the pavement and shocked him repeatedly in an act of unjustified brutality.

“I believe that’s torture,” protester Josh Schlossberg said. Schlossberg said he did not see Van Ornum do anything illegal or that justified the arrest. “They repeatedly tasered him after he was down,” he said. “I did not see him resisting.”

“When he was on the ground fully restrained, they tasered him three times,” said protester Mary Stevens, adding that the city should be sued.

“They were dragging him by the hair,” said Amy Pincus Merwin. “They ground his face into the ground with a knee on his back.”

“They were beating him,” said Carly Barnicle, who helped organize the rally with Van Ornum. She said Van Ornum is a very peaceful person and was doing nothing illegal or resisting and asking, “why, why, why” while police assaulted him.

The Eugene Police Department issued a press release describing their version of what happened at the “otherwise peaceful” rally. The EPD alleged that Van Ornum “was blocking and impeding traffic” and holding a sprayer. EPD alleged that when contacted by an officer, Van Ornum “raised the [sprayer] wand toward the officer asking, ‘Do you want poison in your face?’” When officers “began to escort him across the street,” the EPD alleged Ornum “began fighting with the officers” and the officers arrested him “with the assistance of a taser” for “resisting arrest” and “disorderly conduct.”

Numerous citizens that witnessed the event said that Van Ornum was not doing anything illegal, fighting with officers or resisting arrest. They said the sprayer at the rally against pesticides was only water and used at previous events as a protest prop.

The EPD alleged that “a crowd of 25 to 30 people began to converge” on the arrest scene. EPD alleged that Anthony Farley, 22, “swung his fists at the officers” and arrested him for alleged “assault, interfering with a police officer and disorderly conduct.”

The EPD alleged that David Owen, 50, “ran at the officers in an attempt to interfere with the arrest.” The EPD arrested Owen alleging “interfering with a police officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.”

Numerous citizen witnesses said that Farley and Owen shouted their disapproval of the arrest along with others but did not assault officers or resist them or interfere with them or do anything illegal.

“We started yelling shame on you” and “don’t hurt him,” Merwin said.

“They said they would taser me if I stepped any closer,” said Barnicle.

Stevens said police refused to provide information on how to file a complaint.

Merwin said she has contacted the police auditor’s office to file an official complaint.

Lisa Arkin of the Oregon Toxics Alliance said she attended the rally but left before the taser incident. Arkin said it appeared that the police “purposely waited” until some of the older attendees and press had left.

Arkin said the rally focused on praising efforts by the state, city and county to limit pesticide use and was carefully organized by UO students. “These were not kids looking to cause a problem.”

The incident comes at a time of rising tension between the police and Eugene citizens.

The police union recently taunted a progressive city councilor online with an ugly caricature and a “she’s baaaack” quote from a horror movie. The union opposed councilor Bonny Bettman’s successful effort to create an independent police auditor and citizen review board to investigate complaints against officers.

Citizens criticized the police attack against a councilor and a previous written attack by the police union against an anti-global warming song at the Mayor’s state of the city speech as expressions of hate directed at the city’s liberal community. Police defended their rhetoric as free speech.

Protesters at the pesticide rally said police used a taser and violence to violate their free speech at the environmental protest.

Eugene police recently changed their policy to arm officers with tasers with few binding restrictions on their use. Where previously the EPD rarely used batons or guns to arrest subjects, the department has begun using tasers on a regular basis, always, they allege, with justification.

Tasers fire 50,000-volts into victims causing violent pain. Nationally, the controversial weapon has been linked to more than 70 deaths and hundreds of lawsuits and complaints
of police abuse.

Police tasered Ian Van Ornum (left) at an environmental rally he organized with Carly Barnicle (right). Photo is from a May 22 EW story on the planned rally.

Below is David Owen’s photo from a 2006 EW story about people protesting rural herbicide use.