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Verdict was Act 1.

Byline: The Register-Guard

David R. Newman offers a splendid suggestion in his letter to the editor published today: How about if everyone involved in the case of the Tasered pesticide protester shakes hands on the stage at the Saturday Market, apologizes, and goes off for a no-hard-feelings cup of chai? Unfortunately, it's too late for such an amicable resolution. The conduct of all parties must be evaluated, and the protester's conviction Thursday was only the first step. Now it's time to look at the conduct of the police in the matter.

A six-member Lane County Circuit Court jury found Ian Van Ornum guilty of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Van Ornum had been engaging in a bit of street theater as part of an anti-pesticide protest in downtown Eugene last May. Dressed in a hazmat suit, Van Ornum was spritzing water from a garden sprayer marked "poison." Prosecutors convinced the jury that Van Ornum, who was 18 at the time, had disrupted traffic, and then resisted police officers who moved in to arrest him.

The jury had a narrow decision to make: Was Van Ornum guilty of the misdemeanor charges? The jurors had not been called to pass judgment on the conduct of the police, who subdued Van Ornum and used a Taser on him twice. The jurors weren't there to evaluate the role of the Department of Homeland Security, whose officers alerted police to the protest. The jurors weren't asked to comment on pesticide risks, global warming or the phases of the moon. No one but Van Ornum was on trial, and now that the verdict is in he's scheduled to be sentenced Friday.

Some people, as other letters to the editor published today make clear, believe that this is an injustice - that the police overreacted and should be called to account for using excessive force. Such feelings of frustration are premature. Eugene's voter-approved process for evaluating police conduct will now come into play, after having been held in abeyance pending an end to the criminal proceedings.

An investigation by the Eugene Police Department's internal affairs division and the city's independent police auditor can now begin. The delay was unnecessary, but the investigation will be aided by the availability of sworn testimony by eyewitnesses and others given during Van Ornum's trial. The results of the investigation will be forwarded to the city's civilian review board.

The board has designated the Van Ornum case as a "community impact case," one requiring scrutiny by the board beyond a review by the auditor. The board will advise interim police Chief Pete Kerns whether disciplinary action against the arresting police officers is warranted. Disciplinary authority lies with the chief, but if the board is not satisfied with Kerns' decision it can order the investigation reopened and specify policy and procedural issues for further consideration.

This will be the first community impact case to come before the board, and it will test the fairness and thoroughness of the police review process. If it functions as the voters intended, the public will gain a well-rounded evaluation of everyone's conduct in the case. Thursday's guilty verdict had no direct bearing on how the police handled the arrest. That aspect of the case will be dealt with separately.

The jury has done its job. Now it's time for the next act, when the actions of the police will be examined. And maybe someday, when the picture of the events at last May's protest is complete, there will be a time for those handshakes and cups of chai.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Protestor convicted - now examine police conduct
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 21, 2009
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