FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Lauren Regan, CLDC, 541-687-9180; Alley Valkyrie, 541-954-3779
Municipal Court Hearings to Dismiss Charges Against 20 Free Speech Activists
In Eugene Municipal Court, Courtroom 2, on Monday, July 15 at 9 a.m., Judge Karen Stennard will hear arguments regarding motions to dismiss criminal charges based upon constitutional challenges to the underlying arrests. Defense attorneys will argue that the Court must dismiss second-degree criminal trespass charges against 20 activists who refused to leave the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza in Eugene, in two separate incidents last winter as they were exercising First Amendment rights to assemble and protest government action. Lane County officials are expected to deliver testimony justifying the County’s decision to restrict access to the plaza.
The cases stem from two incidents that took place during a campaign at the plaza organized by an offshoot of Occupy Eugene called SLEEPS, to challenge Eugene’s camping ban and allow unhoused people access to safe and legal places to sleep. Both cases will rely upon an assertion by defendants that their actions were protected by both Oregon and U.S. Constitutional rights to protest.
According to Civil Liberties Defense Center attorney Lauren Regan, the Wayne Morse Plaza is a “traditional public forum,” which means the government’s ability to restrict activities there is extremely limited. Regan adds that similar charges of trespass against SLEEPS activists for refusing to leave the plaza in front of the Federal Building on 7th and Pearl in December were dropped by the Federal government.
The first case to be heard on Monday concerns an incident on December 13 when one protester refused to leave the Free Speech Plaza after it had been closed by an “indefinite closure order” issued by Lane County Administrator Liane Richardson. In another gross overstep by Richardson, she imposed the order without any prior consultation with Lane County Commissioners. The closure order followed a two-day lawful demonstration by SLEEPS at the plaza. At the time of the closure, Richardson alleged SLEEPS demonstrators damaged the building and created a bio-hazard. Other County staff people denied the activists were responsible for the minor incidents. Richardson also ordered the plaza surrounded by an iron barricade.
The SLEEPS protesters vigorously denied Richardson’s claims and said no evidence existed to support them. On December 13, one day after the closure, a group of activists entered the closed barricaded plaza to protest the closure of this revered Free Speech Plaza, and, when ordered to leave by the Eugene police, one protester remained and was cited for trespass. After this arrest, Richardson amended the long standing guidelines for the Wayne Morse Plaza and imposed a night time curfew that bans any First Amendment activity at the plaza.
The second case concerns an incident on January 7, when more than 100 activists remained at the Free Speech Plaza after the curfew took effect at 11 p.m. After the Eugene police ordered the protesters to leave, 21 remained and were cited for trespass. The protesters cited ranged in age from 16 to 68 and included a recent war veteran. The group contended that they have the right to protest at the plaza regardless of the hour and that recent lawsuits affirmed the law that curfews are generally deemed unconstitutional restrictions upon First Amendment rights. SLEEPS activist Jean Stacey said that the group was taking a stand for the right to protest and for the rights of un-housed people. On Monday, Judge Stennard will hear arguments from several defense attorneys regarding motions to dismiss the charges against 19 of this group.
This press release is from the Communications Committee of Occupy Eugene that has been empowered to speak on behalf of the larger Occupy Eugene body.