Sworn Police Testimony Refutes EPD Tasering Spin

(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.