Ian Van Ornum EPD Taser-Arrest Case Can Go Back to Trial

Back in 2008, some UO students and other local groups held a rally downtown to celebrate that the Lane County Commission was limiting use of pesticide sprays. Seven years later, the Oregon Court of Appeals has handed down a ruling in a case related to an arrest at that rally, an arrest that was later appealed and has been making its way through the court system ever since.

At the time of the rally and arrest there was a little, shall we say, confusion between Homeland Security and the Eugene Police Department.

Ian Van Ornum, then an 18-year-old college student was performing street theater dressed in a fake Hazmat suit and carrying a fake pesticide spray bottle — actually a large spray bottle of water with a skull and crossbones Sharpied on to it. A Homeland Security officer, according to police reports at the time, called the Eugene police, specifically naming Van Ornum.

As EW wrote back in 2008: According to the police reports, Federal Protective Services (FPS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, was made aware of the rally in support of Lane County’s no-roadside spray policy by the EPD on May 22. That is the day EW published an article on the planned rally, featuring a photo of Ian Van Ornum, one of the leaders of “Crazy People for Wild Places,” the student group that organized the rally. Van Ornum was Tasered twice and arrested with [Day] Owen and UO student (and Eagle Scout) Tony Farley.

Day Owen, who spoke at the May 22, 2008 rally, was a member of the Pitchfork Rebellion — a group of organic farmers working to end pesticide sprays, and according to the documents, Homeland Security had been monitoring the Pitchfork Rebellion.

According to today’s ruling (and the court’s account of the incident is worth a read): As the demonstration was winding down, Keedy, a federal Homeland Security officer, arrived at the demonstration, concerned because one of the other speakers had previously threatened acts of civil disobedience at federal buildings. Keedy called Solesbee of the Eugene Police Department to let him know that he was at the rally and that the rally was peaceful. Keedy described a couple of people dressed up in “exterminator costumes” who were spraying something around planters, but stated that it seemed innocuous and that he could not see “anything wrong” with what they were doing.

Eugene police came anyway, and Van Ornum was soon Tasered while prostrate on the ground.

On Dec. 27, 2013, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that Van Ornum could continue to pursue his appeal of his conviction for resisting arrest. As EW wrote at the time: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.

Today, Aug. 26, 2015, the Oregon Court of Appeals wrote: The court then concluded that the trial court’s use of the Uniform Criminal Jury Instruction (UCrJI) 1227 (describing when a person is allowed to use physical force for self-defense in response to an officer’s use of unreasonable force when making an arrest) was plain error, and remanded for us to determine if we would exercise our discretion to review the error. We conclude that the gravity of the error and the ends of justice require us to exercise our discretion to correct the error and, accordingly, reverse and remand for a new trial.

In other words, seven years after his original arrest and Tasering, Van Ornum can have a new trial. He now plays mandolin in the Ashland-based band Patchy Sanders.

Update: KLCC is reporting that the DA has declined to retry the case.