(Video still of Ian Van Ornum and his defense lawyer by KVAL.)
The trial of taser victim Ian Van Ornum began today with testimony of a Homeland Security officer and Eugene police officer and the judge's ejection of an independent video taker from the court room.
Judge Jack Billings alleged that Tim Lewis, who regularly posts video on YouTube, had video taped members of the jury outside the courtroom in violation of a court order. Billings barred Lewis from observing the trial.
Van Ornum is charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest at an anti-pesticide protest last May. Protesters and Van Ornum allege that police used excessive force in twisting his arms, pulling his hair, giving him a concussion and tasering him twice. The trial is expected to continue through Friday.
The trial was originally set for Eugene municipal court with the city prosecutor. But the county district attorney decided to try the case instead in state court in a move protesters alleged was a political decision in response to their charges of excessive force.
The decision to elevate the municipal court case was unusual and came at a time that the district attorney and judges are claiming that they lack sufficient resources to try and prosecute burglars and dangerous felons. The DA case has effectively delayed an independent investigation of the charges of excessive force by the Eugene police auditor for almost a year.
Assistant District Attorney Bob Lane said in his opening statement today that the force used against Van Onum was justified by the protesterâ€™s resistance to arrest for slowing traffic through the Broadway and Willamette intersection. â€œThis case is going to be an attempt to portray these officers as bad people,â€ Lane said. â€œThereâ€™s one person whoâ€™s to blame, the defendant.â€
Van Ornumâ€™s defense attorney Laura Fine said in her opening that police intervened in a peaceful protest in support of a county action to reform pesticide use. Police pulled Van Ornumâ€™s hair, she said, â€œhe was thrown against a wall, he was thrown against the ground.â€ She Van Ornum was later treated for a concussion.
Fine said police tasered Van Ornum with 50,000 volts twice within 30 seconds. â€œMy client was subject to excessive force.â€
Since I didn't get a press pass for the Trials, I didn't get a ticket to the Media BBQ either (Todd and Chuck admit they skipped it seeing as that it was way out by the new hospital).
Picture Eugene videographer Tim Lewis did manage to get a ticket for the BBQ as did his puppet-reporter Scruffy. Lewis is in the news lately thanks a grand jury subpoena of his May 30 Tasering-tape.
The question getting tossed around is whether Lewis is a member of the media. The latest R-G article cites a 2000 quote by Lane County District Attorney Douglas Harcleroad saying Lewis is a reporter "'Mr. Lewis is a reporter, and he was reporting,' Harcleroad said at the time."
But last night KVAL got this out of Harcleroad: "We don't know the facts around whatever he does," he said. "I don't know whether he's a journalist or not. We haven't actually looked at the law on that in any great detail."
Huh? The District Attorney "hasn't looked at the law"?
For Harcleroad's edification, the Oregon Shield law says:
44.520 Limitation on compellable testimony from media persons; search of media persons' papers, effects or work premises prohibited; exception.
1. No person connected with, employed by or engaged in any medium of communication to the public shall be required by a legislative, executive or judicial officer or body, or any other authority having power to compel testimony or the production of evidence, to disclose, by subpoena or otherwise:
(a) The source of any published or unpublished information obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public; or
(b) Any unpublished information obtained or prepared by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public.
Lewis publishes on YouTube which is a medium of communication to the public.
Here, in fact, is the latest sample in which Lewis and Scruff attend the Olympic Trials Media BBQ encountering KLCC's Rachel McDonald, among others.
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€
Local activist and videographer Tim Lewis has posted video and stills of Eugene police tasering a protester at a May 30 rally downtown against pesticides.
Citizens have organized two gatherings in support of the â€œKesey Threeâ€ arrested at the rally in front of the authorâ€™s statue.
The first is planned for Thursday, June 5 from 12-3 pm at the UOâ€™s EMU Amphitheater.
The second is a â€œsilentâ€ event planned for Saturday, June 7 in Kesey Square at Willamette and Broadway at 12 noon. â€œMany will have an â€˜Xâ€™ painted over their mouths or will be wearing tape over their mouths as a statement of how the police are trying to silence free speech with their violence,â€ an email announcement states.
The events are organized by Crazy People for Wild Places , a UO student group. The group is gathering photos and media links about the taser incident here .
With Jim Torrey running for mayor again, local videographer Tim Lewis has posted a reminder on YouTube of what it was like under Torrey. The video features dramatic footage of the June 1st incident in 1997 in which Eugene police emptied every can of pepper spray they had on non-violent tree sitters standing in the way of the Broadway Place project downtown.
For more information on the event, here's a link to EW's coverage of its 5th-year anniversary:
The city settled a lawsuit by some of the protesters for $30,000 and reduced somewhat the use of pepper spray on non-violent demonstrators. But the city and EPD never apologized or admitted that they did anything wrong. Now EPD is armed with tasers with no ban on using them against demonstrators.
Lewis has also published other videos on YouTube and plans to do more. Search the site for "picture Eugene."