Hedin Brugh, one of three protesters charged with trespassing during a Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep (SLEEPS) protest at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza in 2013, had his charge dismissed by the city of Eugene on July 24.
According to the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC), Lane County “conspired with the Eugene Police Department” to “unconstitutionally restrict First Amendment rights on the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza” by closing the plaza to protesters in September 2013. Several SLEEPS protesters defied the order and received trespassing charges.
Though Brugh and his CLDC legal counsel say they are happy the charge was dropped, lawyer and CLDC Executive Director Lauren Regan says the decision by the city to drop the charges was “pretty weak” and likely done because “clearly they knew they were going to lose and didn’t want an opinion stating for the third time the CLDC has proven that Lane County has violated the constitutional rights of the community” by closing the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza.
The SLEEPS protesters were charged after returning to the plaza following its closure by a 4-1 Lane County Commission vote for “emergency” cleaning — cleaning that, according to the CLDC, should not have taken six days.
CLDC also says the city of Eugene violated the protesters’ equal protection rights after the city allowed Saturday Market to operate in the closed plaza but immediately clamped down on returning SLEEPS protesters.
“Within five to 10 minutes of the tents being up, the EPD swarmed in with eight officers,” Brugh says.
Two protesters had their charges upheld this June but have asked the Oregon Court of Appeals to take the case.
According to city spokesperson Jan Bohman, there are “two other cases going forward and there are some issues in there that are more important,” and it “wasn’t necessary to move forward” with the case against Brugh.
The situation has been sticky for the city of Eugene and Lane County because the plaza’s name has an inherent connection to free speech.
“The county needs to acknowledge that free speech rights trump all sorts of other factors when it comes to Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza,” Regan says.