State puts investigator on leave.
Byline: Register-Guard and news service reports
PORTLAND - Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said a Department of Justice investigator is on paid leave after she learned that he had searched for social media hashtags used by the Black Lives Matter movement as part of a threat assessment program.
Among those targeted by the surveillance was the department's own director of civil rights, Erious Johnson Jr.
Rosenblum told Oregon Public Broadcasting that she had no prior knowledge that an employee was monitoring the hashtag #blacklivesmatter and said she was "outraged" when she learned about it.
Rosenblum said the investigator has been placed on paid leave and that she has hired a special investigator to examine the data collection by the Justice Department's Criminal Justice Division.
"I need to get to the bottom of this," Rosenblum told The Oregonian.
Rosenblum's confirmation came after the Urban League of Portland and other organizations sent her a letter accusing the Justice Department of targeting people involved in the racial justice movement for digital surveillance.
Johnson is married to Urban League of Portland President Nkenge Harmon Johnson, OPB reported.
"The division searched the Twitter feeds of Oregonians who have used the hashtag 'Black Lives Matter,' " the Urban League letter stated. "We do not know how many Oregonians were investigated by the Department of Justice. We do know, however, that Director Johnson was one of them. Because he had posted tweets using that hashtag, he was identified under the Oregon Department of Justice's threat assessment process.
"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," the letter continued. "We are concerned that such unwarranted investigations are racially motivated, and create a chilling effect on social justice advocates, political activists and others who wish to engage in discourse about the issues of our time.
The Urban League letter called for Rosenblum to take additional actions, including:
An immediate halt to surveillance of supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.
An independent audit of the Justice Department.
An apology and disclosure to all Oregonians ensnared in the surveillance.
Other organizations signing on to the Urban League letter included the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, the Eugene-Springfield and Portland chapters of the NAACP, and the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, among others.
In a statement issued by the Oregon ACLU, Executive Director David Rogers called the surveillance "deeply disturbing and offensive."
"Under Oregon law, it is illegal for state law enforcement to gather information about people's political, religious and social views, associations or activities," Rogers said. "Not only is such profiling illegal, but it seriously threatens our democracy by chilling First Amendment speech and activities. We encourage the attorney general to take immediate action and support a full and transparent investigation."