Oregon City to Release Records in Stun-Gun Case

     SALEM, Ore. (CN) — Eugene city officials must turn over redacted investigative records about police using a stun gun on an anti-pesticide activist, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled.
     In 2008, a group of college students and other groups held a rally in downtown Eugene celebrating Lane County’s decision to limit the use of pesticides.
     One of the activists, then-18-year-old student Ian Van Ornum, was dressed in a hazmat suit and carried a spray water bottle with a skull and crossbones drawn on it.
     A U.S. Homeland Security officer came to the demonstration and called the Eugene Police with concerns about people in “exterminator costumes” with spray bottles, according to local news reports at the time.
     Though the officer said he didn’t see “anything wrong” with the protestors, the police came and used a stun gun on Van Ornum, then charged him with resisting arrest.
     Van Ornum and others filed complaints with Eugene’s Civilian Review Board, a municipal body formed to handle citizen complaints against police in the city.
     The Eugene Police Department concluded that officers had acted in line with their policies, and the city relied on an exemption to the state’s public records law to withhold investigation documents.
     In response, the American Civil Liberties Union sued for access to records from the police department’s internal investigation.
     After the ACLU lost two legal battles in state court and on appeal to access police records, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled last week that the records should be turned over.
     “As the city acknowledges, the public has a significant interest in acquiring ‘information about how public business is conducted’ and in monitoring ‘public officials’ performance of their duties,'” Judge Martha Walters wrote in the Sept. 15 opinion. “That interest extends not only to the business of the police department, but also to the business of the entity established to monitor the performance of the police department—the Civilian Review Board.”
     However, the state’s high court said some information can be redacted from the records.
     Walters noted in the ruling that “when information is withheld, the public may suspect that the city has something to hide,” but said the city had a compelling interest in keeping certain details confidential, such as officers’ identifying information.
     “When our system of justice works as we expect it to, officers use their authority legitimately, members of the public comply with their instructions, and the dangers of escalating violence are avoided,” Walters wrote. “But for our system to work as we expect it to, the public must trust that officers are using their authority legitimately, and officers must trust that the people they stop will respond appropriately. Without mutual trust, the police cannot do their work effectively and the public cannot feel safe.”
     The court reversed the lower courts’ decision, but remanded the case to state court so the city of Eugene could keep certain identifying information about officers confidential.
     A spokesperson for the city told the Eugene Register Guard that it “intends to undertake that review in the near future.”
     The ACLU in Oregon praised the court’s decision, calling it “a very significant win for Oregonians.”
     “In this time of national concern regarding what is appropriate police conduct, we are proud that Oregon’s answer is now to shed more light on the review process,” Kimberly McCullough, the state ACLU’s legislative director, said in a statement.

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