Ulterior Motives

Police officers can infiltrate protests in different ways to get information

Black Lives Matter protest organizer Rachel Camarena was planning an event when Eugene Police Lt. Doug Mozan reached out to her from his personal Facebook, asking for details about the rally, which was about to start.

 “I’d like to talk to you about how to make your event a success safely,” he wrote on Facebook Messenger, after previously trying to call her on the app. Camarena says she was confused by the message and didn’t respond.

As the Black Lives Matter protesters have marched through the streets in Eugene, some have concerns about officers infiltrating their groups. While the groups have split into different factions, some advocating for dramatic changes in policing and others for the outright abolition of police, they all share deep-rooted concerns about law enforcement and their tactics. Though it’s most obvious when officers are overt — and lethal —  in their tactics, experts say that police may also operate in different, more secretive ways.

“I didn’t respond because It was really weird that he contacted me this way,” Camarena says. “Especially because the protests were about police brutality.” She says that several days later, EPD reached out to other organizers, but this time through an EPD spokesperson. 

EPD public information officer Melinda McLaughlin said in an email to Eugene Weekly that “marches and protest events go better if the organizers and the police communicate in advance of the event for traffic and safety.”

Speaking on behalf of Mozan, McLaughlin said that he reached out to Camarena in a “liaison function.” He used Facebook because he didn’t have her phone number and didn’t think it would be appropriate to look it up on the police computer system.

“He reached out on social media where he saw the event noted,” McLaughlin wrote. “He had previously had successful video chats on that app.”

But Camarena says she was hesitant to respond. After looking up Mozan’s name, she came across an incident in 2016 where Mozan allegedly got drunk at a work conference in Bend and repeatedly touched a female officer’s neck, leg and hair. The female officer involved did not file charges against him. 

“It seems like a form of intimidation,” Camarena says of having someone reach out via his personal Facebook page. 

This is not the first time police officers in the country have used more subtle tactics to contact protesters. Ben Rosenfeld, an attorney in San Francisco and former board member of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene says that the police will sometimes go deeper. He says that it’s hard to know officer intentions, so protesters should be cautious.

A 2017 Willamette Week article details the story of a person named Tan, who betrayed Antifa by giving information about their protests to a Portland police sergeant. When Antifa members found out Tan was an informant, Tan was ostracized by the group. 

Rosenfeld says he is skeptical of the police’s motivation in contacting Camarena, adding that he isn’t aware of anything that prohibits that contact. Generally, Rosenfeld explains, it’s difficult to know what police motive is and if they have officers doing something covertly. 

“Often enough, they could combine those tactics or strategies. They may do something overt while they have other officers or intelligence agents doing something covertly,” he says. It is unknown whether EPD is using this strategy, but it has been used by police with protesters in the past, and has led to arrests.

Rosenfeld adds that it is something activists should know, especially if they are young and starting out. He says police rely on infiltrators and informants who can either be uniformed police officers, civilians or officers dressed as civilians.

McLaughlin said that Mozan will not be contacting people in the future, and that he ended up going to the beginning of the event and found someone to talk to there.

“It’s beautiful to see new activists minted in this historical moment, and so many people are becoming activists,” Rosenfeld says. “But it is also really critical they avail themselves to collective institutional wisdom of elders and groups that have been around for the longtime.”

By exercising caution and learning from more seasoned activists, Rosenfeld says, protesters can exercise freedom of expression while minimizing risk.