EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) -- A day after announcing constitutional victories over Lane County, a Eugene homeless advocacy group called SLEEPS is fighting the county once again over free speech claims, claims which have now lead to one arrest.
SLEEPS protestors were kicked out of the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza in downtown Eugene on Thursday, December 13 after returning to the scene following several moves. The plaza was officially closed by the county earlier this week.
The protest group began its efforts on Monday, setting up several tents in the plaza as a sign of protesting the City of Eugene’s ban on camping in public places.
By Tuesday, Lane County Administrator Liane Richardson closed the plaza, citing health and safety concerns.
Desptie the plaza closure, SLEEPS continued to protest there through Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. By Wednesday morning, the group left, saying it felt like it had made a point and that their protest was constitutionally protected.
Under the First Amendment, SLEEPS says Lane County cannot enforce a curfew in the plaza. SLEEPS says Lane County also cannot deny the protesters' tents as a symbol of protest.
The group says under the Eighth Amendment, the county cannot “attempt to wake” or “disturb” a homeless person who is sleeping in a public place if that's the only place the person can go for shelter. SLEEPS cites a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling as setting precedent for their action. In the case, “Jones vs. the City of Los Angeles”, Judge Kim Wardlaw stated that sleeping is an “unavoidable consequence of being human and unhoused", ruling sleepers can no longer be disturbed during the night.
By Wednesday afternoon, SLEEPS voluntarily packed up and left the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza. The group moved to a parking lot across from the old Eugene City Hall on 8th Avenue and High Street.
However, the group was kicked off the lot on Wednesday night. Around 10 PM Eugene Police officers notified SLEEPS protestors that they were being evicted by the Eugene City Manager’s Office under a trespassing violation. While the property is publicly-owned by the City of Eugene, the lot is only permitted for authorized parking. In that case, the protest’s camp site was deemed illegal.
Thursday afternoon, the group returned to Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza around 1 PM to find the plaza closed and surrounded by an event fence. SLEEPS protestors then breached the fence and waited for authorities to kick them out.
County Administrator Liane Richardson personally addressed the group on Thursday afternoon, reading her official closure notice. When asked by the group why the plaza was closed, Richardson said the order was made after finding human feces in planters and in two of the county building's bathrooms.
“What you're saying is patently untrue,” says Jean Stacey, a protest organizer with SLEEPS.
Another protestor then interrupted the conversation, asking if Richardson had taken “photographic evidence” of the feces.
Richardson then said, "I am done. You are trespassing,” and left.
Protestors say that legal rulings support their action.
“The precedents all over the country are on our side. The Federal Courthouse down the way here, the Federal Building, just dropped a suit against us for doing this exact same thing,” said Jean Stacey.
Around twenty protestors peacefully left the plaza after being asked. Only one was arrested, thirty-year-old Alley Valkyrie. Valkyrie was cited for Criminal Trespass II and released in lieu of being booked in the Lane County Jail.
SLEEPS has now set up a protest site at the old Federal Courthouse building’s plaza on 7th Avenue and Pearl Street. If the group is asked to leave, the order will likely be carried out by the Federal government’s public safety officers.
Earlier this year, Occupy Eugene set up a similar protest in courthouse's plaza. Federal authorities arrested one person at the protest for failing to comply with a lawful direction. The charge has since been dropped, per the request of federal prosecutors.