Bill Solesbee

An anti-logging protester has filed an intent to sue the city, alleging police falsely arrested, jailed and injured him and violated his free speech rights.

According to a press release, Josh Schlossberg and his attorney Lauren Regan of the Civil liberties Defense Center, filed a tort claim notice this month regarding the March 13, 2009 incident.

The press release says Schlossberg was legally distributing brochures from a public sidewalk in front of Umpqua Bank in downtown Eugene. Schlossberg was informing bank customers of the "irresponsible logging and harmful pesticide practices" of Umpqua's chairman of the board, Allyn Ford.

The press release alleges that EPD officer Bill Solesbee unlawfully ordered Schlossberg to leave the sidewalk and give him his video camera. When he refused the press release alleges, "Solesbee charged Schlossberg, wrenched his arm behind his back, forced him to the ground where Schlossberg hit his head, and proceeded to place a knee on Schlossberg's previously injured neck, while handcuffing and arresting him."

The press release says Schlossberg filed a complaint with the police, but the Chief dismissed it.

The case is one of several recent incidents in which sidewalk protesters have alleged that police violated their free speech rights. Ian Van Ornum alleged Solesbee and other officers used excessive force at an anti-pesticide protest last spring. Video showed police Tasered Van Ornum twice in the back as he lay face down on the sidewalk with one or both arms behind his back.

In another recent incident, an officer arrested a man for leafleting outside a church. The unlawful charges were later dropped and the officer reprimanded.

"By utilizing a militarized presence, heavy-handed tactics, Tasers, and unjustifiable arrests against nonviolent citizens, law enforcement is attempting to scare people into silence and apathy," Regan states. "This case will determine whether the citizens of Eugene still have the constitutional right to lawfully convey thoughts and ideas to their fellow citizens in public forums-a quintessential principle of our democracy."

Police cell phone, dispatch and taser time stamps contradicted a Eugene police sergeant’s testimony that Ian Van Ornum caused a long traffic back-up during an anti-pesticide protest last May.

Van Ornum is on trial for allegedly slowing traffic (disorderly conduct) and resisting arrest at an anti-pesticide protest last May. Many witnesses have accused the police of brutality in the arrest. Police video in the case shows that Van Ornum was tasered twice in the back while he lay on the ground face first with his arms pinned under his side or held behind him by police.

Eugene Police Sergeant Bill Solesbee testified at the trial that before the arrest Van Ornum backed up traffic two blocks. The police officer swore under oath that it took him seven to 15 minutes to drive through the backed up traffic to the Broadway and Willamette plaza.

But police cell phone records and taser gun time stamps obtained by the defense indicate such a delay is impossible.

Solesbee’s cell phone records and police dispatch records indicate that Solesbee called police dispatch at 1:12 pm before leaving for the protest. Police taser gun time stamps indicate that Van Ornum was tasered by another officer while Solesbee was arresting him at 1:16 pm. That’s four minutes later, not the seven to 15 minutes Solesbee testified.

Defense lawyer Laura Fine pointed out that in the documented four minutes, Solesbee testified that he drove to the scene, talked to Van Ornum for about 30 seconds, drove around the block, parked and moved Van Ornum across the street.

Under cross examination Solesbee admitted, “I’m really not very good on time as you can see by my testimony.” But Solesbee maintained the traffic delay was “outrageous.”

Fine told the jury in her closing argument that the documented discrepancies should cast doubt on Solesbee’s entire testimony that Van Ornum was slowing traffic and resisting arrest. “He can’t be relied on.”

Prosecutor Bob Lane shrugged off the time discrepancy in his closing. Lane said that actor John Belushi’s watch was not accurate in the movie Animal House.

The jury has been deliberating on a verdict since 2:30 pm today.

(Police Sgt. Bill Solesbee, KVAL pool photo)

After an anti-pesticide protest ended in a police tasering last May, the Eugene Police department issued a misleading press release that has been largely refuted by sworn police officer testimony this week.

The May 30, 2008 press release stated that taser victim Ian Van Ornum “was dressed as an exterminator and was spraying unknown liquid in the street. When the officer contacted him, he said he couldn’t be arrested and raised the wand toward the officer asking, 'Do you want poison in your face?'”

The press release, widely quoted in The Register-Guard and local TV news, implied that officers thought Van Ornum was threatening to spray them in the face with poison. Readers repeated the impression in letters to the editor. The EPD did not issue another press release to correct the impression.

But Eugene Police Sgt. Bill Solesbee testified at Van Ornum’s trial yesterday that he was the officer described in the press release and was not concerned Van Ornum would spray him with poison.

Asked if he was concerned about the sprayer, Solesbee testified, “no, not really.” The officer noted that if he was concerned he would have rolled up his SUV window but did not. Solesbee said he left the garden sprayer at the scene. “It’s not a crucial piece of evidence.”

Tom Keedy, an officer with the Department of Homeland Security who originally called for the EPD to intervene in the protest, also testified that he wasn’t concerned that Van Ornum had poison. Because the protest was against pesticides, “I assumed it’s innocuous,” Keedy said.

The EPD press release also described Van Ornum as “fighting” with police. But Solesbee and other officers in the case did not testify that Van Ornum struck or attempted to strike them, a common definition of fighting. Van Ornum was not charged with assault but with resisting arrest.

Solesbee testified that Van Ornum resisted being handcuffed, but did not say Van Ornum struck or attempted to strike an officer. “Did I square up and have a punching match with him? No,” he said.

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