Tyler Hendry. Photo by Bob Williams.

EPD, City Sued for Protest Response

Protesters are suing the city and Eugene police for gassing, shooting and arresting them in a way that allegedly violated their civil rights 

Tyler Hendry and other Black Lives Matter protesters were walking on Broadway at about 11 pm on May 31 when another group of protesters ran into them, fleeing from rubber bullets, caustic gas and Eugene Police Department officers. 

One protester ran full-barrel into Hendry’s friend, Joshua McKnight, slamming him to the concrete and knocking off his glasses. Hendry stooped over to find McKnight’s glasses. As he reached down to grab them, he was also wiped off his feet, by what he says were multiple EPD officers. In a live stream of the incident, Hendry can be heard yelling, “I’m peaceful bro, I’m peaceful!” as he’s put in handcuffs.

He and other protesters were arrested for curfew violation and booked for a night in the Lane County Jail. They were told of the 11 pm citywide curfew enacted that night by EPD at 10:57 pm over a loudspeaker. Hendry says he was complying with EPD orders to leave the area and was on his way home when he was arrested. 

The Civil Liberties Defense Center filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Eugene and EPD July 31, on behalf of Hendry and five other protesters, for violating their rights during May 31 BLM protests.

The suit alleges EPD shot protesters with chemical and impact munitions without a lawful reason, injuring protesters and destroying their property. It alleges EPD arrested or attacked protesters for violating the city curfew enacted May 31 while they were not in the curfew zone. The suit says these actions violated the First, Fourth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution.

“I’m moving forward with this civil suit because I want police to be held accountable, and I want police to be looked at with the same lens as civilians are,” Hendry says. After the incident, he redoubled his protesting efforts and is a leader of local BLM group Black Unity.

The curfew violation charges against Hendry and at least three other protesters arrested by EPD that night were dismissed by the city prosecutor the week of July 23. The city prosecutor did not comment before press time on why charges weren’t filed.

The suit follows another filed by CLDC against the city and members of EPD for violating Eugene Weekly reporter Henry Houston’s rights on May 31 by shooting him with impact and chemical munitions even though he clearly identified himself as press.

In the second suit, plaintiffs request that each of them get a jury trial, that they be awarded money for damages and for attorney fees they’ve incurred as a result of their arrests and that police officers involved in the incidents described in the lawsuit be punished.

The plaintiffs in the suit are Hendry, Hasheem Boudjerada, Kelsie Leith-Bowden, Damon Cochran-Salinas, Erin Grady and Kirtis Ranesbottom. The defendants are the city of Eugene, City Manager Sarah Medary, EPD officers Samuel Stott and Bo Rankin and other unnamed EPD officers involved in allegedly illegal police action on May 31. 

The suit says that the city of Eugene as a municipal organization is responsible for the actions of EPD officers on a policy level. It alleges Medary is responsible for making the final call on imposing an unconstitutional curfew. It also alleges defendants Stott and Rankin arrested plaintiffs Boudjerada and Grady in an unlawful way. The other unnamed defendants in the suit are EPD officers who allegedly  shot munitions illegally at peaceful protesters and residences on May 31, whose names still have not been discovered by CLDC.  

Asked for comment, EPD spokesperson John Hankemeier told EW that the department does not talk about pending litigation. The city of Eugene and Medary did not respond to a request for comment by press time. In a press conference at the time, EPD Chief Chris Skinner said he had to prepare for the May 31 protest  “looking through the lens of what occured Friday night,” when rioters smashed windows and looted from downtown businesses on May 29. 

Hendry’s account was part of one of three main instances described in the lawsuit, which occurred near 14th  and Patterson Street. The complaint says that Hendry and other protesters were shot at with impact and chemical munitions. It says they were arrested unlawfully, because citywide curfew was an infraction of First Amendment rights and was unconstitutional and because protesters weren’t given the ability to comply with the curfew. 

 Hendry says the EPD was unnecessarily violent during his arrest, and says he thinks EPD was trying to make an example of protesters as a scare tactic. 

 “Honestly, in my opinion, it felt like it was kidnapping,” he says.

Grady says she was unaware of the citywide curfew when she was arrested. 

 “No one told us that there was a curfew, and we had no way of knowing that there was,” she says. The citywide curfew that night started at 11 pm but was announced at 11:08 on the EPD Facebook page. 

Grady was arrested close to 11 pm. 

In another instance described in the complaints, plaintiff Kelsie Leith-Bowden was allegedly shot multiple times by impact munitions while peacefully protesting near Olive Street and 10th Avenue at about 8:20 pm. 

Photos included in the complaint show a red-purple bruise about three inches wide and bloody lacerations on Leith-Bowden’s right hip.

 The complaint alleges EPD officers kept shooting at Leith-Bowden as she ran away and includes a photo of a bruise on the back of her leg where she was allegedly shot by more impact munitions.

 “I’m joining this suit not only because I was harmed, but also because I refuse to allow a rogue police state to instill fear in the hearts of those who would hold it accountable,” she says in a press release provided by CLDC.

In the final instance described by the lawsuit, EPD officers allegedly shot at people and property at the Campbell Club and Lorax student residences near 17th and Alder Street. The complaint says EPD officers shot chemical munitions at people outside the residences and directly at the buildings without legal justification, breaking the hinge of a door and filling the buildings with gas, injuring the residents.

Hendry says he hopes the results of this case will shine a spotlight on EPD’s actions and help sway public opinion toward defunding the police department, one of the goals of his activism group Black Unity.

“So many people refuse to believe that all of this shit happens within EPD,” he says. “If the community can see for certain that EPD is guilty of these accusations, maybe that would sway the rest of the community who is not believing to join this side, and to join the fight.” ν

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