The Forced Out Series – Part 1: Erious Johnson – Injustice at Oregon DOJ

Introducing the Forced Out Series

In the Forced Out series, I will give my opinion why Florida does a better job protecting our civil rights than Oregon for significantly less tax dollars.

For part 1, I will analyze the profiling of Erious Johnson by a Department of Justice (DOJ) colleague because Erious used the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

Erious Johnson

 

As many of you know, I moved from Palm Beach County, Florida, to Portland, Oregon in 2016. In Florida, this would play out  “In the Sunshine”, substantially different from how the matter was handled in Oregon.

Two lawyers and activists aim to make Oregon live up to its progressive reputation. Oregon Business. November 10, 2017

Part 1: Erious Johnson

Erious Johnson, lead civil rights attorney for the DOJ, was forced out after he was profiled by a colleague in the Department of Justice. Listen to the Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) Think Out Loud podcast to hear Erious Johnson describe the profiling and what happened afterwards in his own words. Erious is the only DOJ employee who lost his job after his civil rights were violated. This outcome would not have happened in New York or DC, where Erious hails from or in Florida, my home state until 2016. How could this happen in progressive Florida.

The Urban Dictionary defines profiling as stereotyping for police, based on race, culture, etc. David Rogers, the executive director for the ACLU of Oregon, said “Surveying people based on their political ideas undercuts the fundamental freedoms that our country was founded on.”

Johnson waited nearly six months before filing a lawsuit against the DOJ. He explained on “Think Out Loud” that he waited because he hoped that someone would address what had happened to him. But no support came — not from his colleagues, nor from outside groups like his union or the Oregon State Bar.

Johnson told OPB’s Think Out Loud – “A statute was violated. Somebody had to address it. I was looking for accountability and transparency,” said Johnson of his choice to sue. “The accountability is on us. It’s on the public. It’s on society … are we going to sit and let this happen in the future? Are we going to call them on the carpet for it?”

“If no one’s going to stand up for me, I can’t work for or with people that aren’t going to show the same loyalty I gave them,” he said.

Johnson believes a similar violation is bound to happen again. He thinks his removal was the state’s way of sending a message to someone willing to challenge the status quo.

Moving forward, Johnson said he will continue to pursue the mission he set forth when he graduated law school.

“I wanted to help people and I wanted to make the world a better place — you know, 15 years later I still believe that,” Andrew Dorn/OPB October 17, 2017

Erious Johnson

Erious Johnson, former civil rights director with the Oregon Department of Justice.           Andrew Dorn/OPB

Not in Florida

This would never happen in Florida. Why not? The answer is SIMPLE – Florida does not have a Department of Justice, AND the public has access to the public records of governmental bodies as noted in the 1995 enacted “Sunshine Laws.” The Sunshine Laws are TRANSPARENCY laws.

Of course, nothing is quite that simple. Some of the functions included in Oregon DOJ are included in other areas of the Florida Budget, for example Child Support. In Florida, these functions are purely clerical in nature, performed by public servants charged with following procedures to implement the law. These folks are not highly compensated experts with the education and expertise of the elected officials they serve.

Oregon Open Records Law is a Sunshine Law

Interestingly, Google reports that the Oregon Public Records Law is a “sunshine law.” The State of Oregon could learn by studying Florida’s sunshine laws.

My Own Experiences With Injustice in Oregon

I want to be clear that the public servants would gladly help but are constrained because their job is defined as implementing policies and laws. Oregon never seems to go back and change a law deemed to be unjust. Oregon just makes a series of new laws to correct the old laws, increasing complexity but not solving the problem.

This process violates a key principle of the Sunshine Laws – keep it SIMPLE so elected officials and their constituents can openly discuss government policy. Some examples from my personal experience.

  1. Oregon Construction Contractor Board – My complaint with the CCB asked for copies of all original bids, change orders and verification of payment for all subcontractors that worked on the Emerson Street House. The CCB denied my complaint, although I only asked for items I am legally
  2. Portland Police Bureau – On December 29, 2016, Officer Ring came to my home and told me the PPB had an ANONYMOUS complaint that I was mentally ill and they were concerned because I had an 8 year old child in my care. Officer Ring established that I am not mentally ill and there was no child in my care. I asked for further investigation because I felt there may be a link between this complaint and the complaint with the CCB
  3. Bureau of Development Services (BDS) – I decided to check out the Permit Records for Zoning Plan Review and this Request for Reproduction of Copyrighted Materials comes up. I am listed as the Owner on the Permit Plans provided to me by BDS. There is no Architect listed. I did NOT file for a copyright on these plans and I did NOT authorize anyone to file on my behalf.
  4. Bureau of Development Services  (BDS) – I discovered by perusing Portland Maps than a Code Complaince Zoning Complaint had been received and listed on 1006 NE EMERSON STREETCOMPLAINT RECEIVED CA OK W/CALL – RUNNING A BUSINESS IN RESIDENTIAL ZONE – ART GALLERY, EVENT SPACE. Anyone can complain about a neighbor and that complaint will be kept confidential, according to a policy last revised 5/23/2005.
  5. Erious JohnsonH-5-1 Complainant Confidentiality, Effective Date 9/30/2004 Policy Revision Date 5/23/2005
Erious Johnson

Permits – 1006 NE Emerson Street – Portland Maps

In Part 2 of the Forced Out series, I will cover more of the Florida sunshine laws, including how the sunshine laws actually work, and what changes I believe Oregon needs to make to make Oregon Public Records Law effective.

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