Ore. Attorney General sued by her top civil rights lawyer

SALEM, Ore. -- A racial profiling lawsuit has been filed against Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum by Erious Johnson, the agency's civil rights director. Johnson filed the suit Oct. 26 in U.S. District Court in Eugene, and claims the agency violated his own civil rights.

Along with Rosenblum, the defendants are:

-- Deputy Attorney General Fred Boss
-- Former Criminal Justice Division chief counsel Darin Tweedt
-- Former Special Agent in Charge David Kirby
-- Former Intelligence Unit investigator James Williams

The suit stems from a September 2015 incident in which Williams surveilled Johnson's social media posts. Williams was working at the Oregon TITAN Fusion Center, a Salem-based intelligence operation where federal, state and local law enforcement agencies cooperate to monitor terrorist threats.

Williams had run a search for Twitter posts in Salem with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and other statements critical of police. It was via that search that Johnson's posts, one of which included the logo of the hip-hop group Public Enemy, were collected by the DOJ.

Williams allegedly confused Johnson's social media posts with threats to police, and used them to develop a "threat assessment" of Johnson, according to the suit. Johnson, who is African American, alleges the search broke laws that prevent racial profiling and politically motivated surveillance of private individuals.

DOJ spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson said Johnson is a "valued member" of the attorney general's inner circle. She called the search of his tweets "an unfortunate incident."

Inquiry shows inadequate cultural training at DOJ

Details of the DOJ's investigation of Johnson surfaced last year when the Urban League of Portland, which is headed by Johnson's wife, Nkenge Harmon Johnson, released his story to the public.

At that time, Rosenblum contracted with an outside attorney to investigate the incident, who released a report after the inquiry. The report concluded that Johnson was improperly targeted and that his speech was protected by the First Amendment.

The investigation also found a lack of "cultural competency" at DOJ, and recommended the agency train its staff on preventing racial bias. Johnson alleges that these recommendations have not been implemented. Edmunson said the agency will begin cultural competency and implicit bias training in November.

In his lawsuit, Johnson asks a federal judge to make the DOJ develop policies that ensure political speech is protected. He also asks for compensation for damages and for the state to pay his legal fees.

Attorney General makes personnel changes

Edmunson said that in light of the situation, Rosenblum decided to make personnel changes. Williams was fired this summer, Tweedt demoted to senior assistant attorney general, and Kirby left voluntarily, Edmunson said.

Kirby's public LinkedIn profile shows that he's working at a Seattle-based firm that invests in legal marijuana businesses. A new special agent in charge began at the Criminal Justice Division this week.

Beth Creighton, who is Johnson's attorney, said the case could take as long as two years to resolve.

"This whole time has been difficult for him," she said of Johnson. "He’s been waiting for them to do the right thing."

Send questions, comments or news tips to gfriedman2@statesmanjournal.com or 503-399-6653. Follow on Twitter @GordonRFriedman.

KGW


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