Taser Case Goes to Grand Jury
Lane County is convening a grand jury next week to investigate the May 30 anti-pesticide rally that ended with the Tasering of UO student Ian Van Ornum. Local independent media videographer Tim Lewis of Picture Eugene, whose footage of the event was featured on EW! A Blog and YouTube, has been subpoenaed in the case.
The grand jury investigation is not looking into the allegations of police brutality in the incident but is investigating whether to press state felony charges against Van Ornum, Day Owen and Anthony Farley as well as others involved in the rally. It was recently revealed that the Department of Homeland Security was also involved in the case and contacted the EPD about the rally while it was in progress.
The Eugene Municipal Court dropped its charges against the three activists that were arrested in response to Lane County District Attorney Douglas Harcleroad's request that the county examine (and prosecute) the cases and determine whether state charges will be filed.
Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, which is involved in the case, says sheâ€™s afraid the witnesses who have filed complaints and made public statements about the EPDâ€™s brutality will be forced to testify before the grand jury. â€œItâ€™s almost like a retaliator slap that theyâ€™re going to be roped into a grand jury.â€ She says, â€œItâ€™s a real usurpation of what the citizens thought they were doing by coming forward.â€
Others, like witness Mary Stephens, fear that by coming forward and speaking out against the Tasering they have made themselves targets for the investigation.
As a result of Harcleroad's investigation, the inquiry into the allegations of police brutality by the Eugene Citizen's Review Board will now be delayed.
The internal police review of the case has also been postponed. Sgt. Scott McKee of Internal Affairs, which conducts internal reviews of cases like this that allege misconduct by EPD officers, is leading the countyâ€™s investigation into potential felony charges against the protesters.
Thatâ€™s â€œcops investigating copsâ€ says Lewis, who was presented his grand jury subpoena by Sgt. Mckee at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. Lewis was there to get a press credential to document the Trials.
The subpoena demands â€œall videotape or video recordingsâ€ Lewis has of the May 30th incident and demands that Lewis appear before the grand jury with those items on July 3 at 9 am.
â€œHave they subpoenaed any of the television stations that were there?â€ asks Lewis a longtime Eugene videographer and one of the founders of Eugeneâ€™s CopWatch. In previous grand jury cases involving news footage, the grand jury was only allowed to subpoena the published footage, not all the raw footage that was filmed, says Regan. Lewis â€œintends to protect his proprietary footage,â€ she says.
Many activists, both locally and across the nation, object to the grand jury system. It has unrestricted powers that many regard as dangerous to civil liberties. It was originally used to be a buffer between a king and his subjects, according to the American Bar Association, but â€œnow it simply acts as a rubber stamp for the prosecutor.â€ Other countries like England and Australia have banned the grand jury system.
Unlike in regular trials, grand jurors are not screened for bias, and anyone can be called to testify before a grand jury without probable cause. Failure to testify can result in jail sentences, like that of Jeff Hogg who was held in Lane County Jail for almost six months for his refusal to testify before a grand jury in the Operation Backfire cases.
â€œThey pretend that it [the grand jury] is somehow going to be neutral,â€ says Regan who objects to the use of grand juries by prosecutors like Harcleroad. â€œGrand juries will indict a ham sandwich.â€