PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Oregon’s attorney general said she is “appalled” that her Criminal Division spied on people who use the Black Lives Matter hashtag on Twitter: including the director of her own Division of Civil Rights.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she has placed one employee on paid administrative leave and appointed a private attorney to serve as a special assistant attorney general to investigate the Criminal Justice Division.
The spying made headlines in Oregon Tuesday when the head of Portland’s Urban League released a public letter to Rosenblum, and the attorney general responded the same day.
Portland Urban League President Nkenge Harmon Johnson asked Rosenblum why her office would do this, asked for it to stop, and asked for a full report on it by the end of the year.
Rosenblum responded that she was “appalled,” that she “immediately ordered the Criminal Justice Division to stop the use of this online search tool, or any other similar tool,” and that she agreed that the surveillance “raises many troubling questions.”
Johnson’s husband, Oregon Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Director Erious Johnson, was one of the people identified through the department’s “threat assessments,” because he had posted tweets using the hashtag “#blacklivesmatter.”
Erious Johnson was called into a meeting two weeks ago and told of the searches.
“It is improper, and potentially unlawful, for the Oregon Department of Justice to conduct surveillance and investigations on an Oregonian merely for expressing a viewpoint, or for being a part of a social movement,” Harmon Johnson’s letter states.
The surveillance is particularly troublesome because Rosenblum chairs the Justice Department’s task force for law enforcement profiling, Harmon Johnson wrote.
She asked Rosenblum for more information about her department’s surveillance of “Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements” and an independent audit of the criminal justice division.
Her letter was signed by heads of seven other groups, including local unions, NAACP branches, and the ACLU of Oregon. She also sent it to the speaker of the Oregon house and the president pro tem of the state Senate.
In her response, Rosenblum called the allegations “powerful and disheartening.”
She said she will have her human resources department investigate, and asked attorney Carolyn Walker with Stoel Rives to serve as a special assistant attorney general to investigate the Criminal Justice Division.
Rosenblum said she already has placed one Criminal Justice Division employee on paid administrative leave and is “prepared to take appropriate action in response to the investigation, including personnel actions.”
Rosenblum’s letter concludes: “On a personal note, I have now seen firsthand how devastating profiling can be – written on the face of a member of my team. It must not continue.”
Black Lives Matter was formed after Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted after he killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. It gained strength, and national attention, after the white-on-black police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner in New York City, and others.
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