On the night of April 4th, fourteen people were camped in a group on public property underneath an overpass near the Ferry Street Bridge. Police woke them up around 1:15 am on April 5th and arrested eight people, four men and four women ranging in age from 18 to 37 years old. Six others were not arrested and deliberately left behind to “clean up the mess” and take care of the dogs that belonged to those who were arrested. Those who were left behind were told by another officer that they would be arrested the following night if they remained at the location.
The eight who were arrested were originally cited for criminal trespass, a misdemeanor and a jailable offense, and they were all held in the Lane County Jail overnight. Early the next morning, the city prosecutor decided to drop the criminal trespass charges and instead charge them with prohibited camping, which is a violation and not an arrestable offense. They were arraigned at the Lane County Jail around noon, where they all pled no contest to the charge of prohibited camping and were each fined $100. They were released from the custody of the jail around 2:45 pm on April 5th.
After they were released, the campers returned to the same location where they were arrested, as they had nowhere else to go. Later that afternoon, I had several conversations with a command officer from the Eugene Police Department. After discussing what I viewed to be significant policy violations and legal concerns, I was contacted later in the evening and told that the police were currently “reassessing their approach” to dealing with the campers and would not be arresting anyone at the location until further notice.
Despite this assurance, the campers were still woken up by a police officer around two in the morning on April 6th and threatened with arrest, although the officer did not follow through with the threat. I brought this to the attention of the police department this afternoon, and it is presently being looked into.
While I do feel that the campers at this location are safe from arrest at this moment, this is a constantly evolving situation. In the meantime, this group could use some backup and support. I would like to organize a trash cleanup at the site tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon, and any donations of dry bedding, water, or dog food would be greatly appreciated.
If you can’t help out in person, please consider voicing your opinion on this matter at the City Council meeting this coming Monday, April 8th. Alternatively, contact the mayor or your city counselor and demand that the police stop harassing and arresting people who have no choice but to sleep outdoors.