Saturday, October 16, 2004

Oregon: Bush Security detail tactics draw fire from Local Residents

October 16, 2004
Security detail tactics draw fire
Mail Tribune

JACKSONVILLE, OR— Residents joined demonstrators Friday in condemning police for using what they called "aggressive" force to clear crowds during President Bush’s stay Thursday night.
"They took an aggressive standpoint and escalation was their only option," said Jacksonville resident Michael Moss. He spoke at a press conference held by the demonstrators in front of City Hall Friday afternoon.
The trouble started about 8 p.m. Thursday following peaceful demonstrations from both Bush supporters and protesters throughout the afternoon.
Police ordered about 300 people to clear a section of California Street in front of the Jacksonville Inn, where President and first lady Laura Bush were dining after holding a rally at the Jackson County Expo.
Two protesters were arrested and police fired rounds of pepper balls when a "small group became aggressive with the officers," said an Oregon State Police press release issued Friday.
Moss, 29, said he was taking a walk, not protesting, when he was shot in the back seven times with pepper balls (plastic paint balls filled with capsaicin).
"I was in front of the riot police and we started moving slowly backwards," said Moss. "I saw a man get hit by a baton. He went down. With my back to the police — as I was picking him up — that’s when I was shot."
Moss lifted his shirt to show the quarter-sized welts and abrasions on his back. Moss said he used his body to shield an older man who had been pushed to the ground by police.
"It felt like a branding iron," Moss said. "I talked to (the man) briefly afterwards. He thanked me, but was so shaken up he could hardly talk."
The Secret Service had requested "assistance for a safe and secure setting" from local law enforcement agencies, said the OSP press release, issued jointly with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and the Jacksonville Police Department.
OSP Lt. Kurt Barthel said he was at the command post at the Medford airport during the Jacksonville events, but was told that five of the protesters physically fought back with officers and grabbed their batons.
Protest organizer Shelley Elkovich of Ashland said she had numerous conversations with Sheriff Mike Winters and Jacksonville Police Chief David Towe regarding the planned demonstration before the president’s visit.
"We were told as long as we stayed on the sidewalks, we would be fine," she said. "This was a peaceful protest until the police made a decision to escalate and become aggressive. I am going to be setting up a meeting with law enforcement regarding excessive force."
Police, spectators and demonstrators agree the mixed-age crowd was behaving well until police ordered the sidewalk be cleared immediately between Third and Fifth streets. Those above Third Street were not ordered to clear and some became separated from their families.
Barthel said the Secret Service gave officers orders about a half-hour earlier to move the crowd away from the back of the Jacksonville Inn as the motorcade was leaving the Expo.
"We were given about three minutes to clear the area," said Barthel. "We were told to move them and move them now."
However, Barthel said the back of the inn was cleared without incident.
Barthel said he’d had reports the crowd had gotten louder once it realized the president was in the Jacksonville Inn having dinner.
"But I can’t really state why there was a sweep of that area," said Barthel.
Elizabeth Bretko, 32, of Jacksonville, said she decided to take a walk downtown and was quickly met by "the riot police."
"I want everyone to know I wasn’t there to protest. It was a one-time ever event," she said. "But to be constantly told (by police) that I was the enemy was really shocking. I walk these streets every night. I own a business here."
When the sweep started, Bretko said the crowds, which had been assembling for several hours, were unable to move as fast as the police were demanding.
"They couldn’t hear what they were shouting. And they couldn’t move because there were too many people still coming up the street. It was crazy," said Bretko.
Barthel said Towe was in charge of the town’s policing.
Bretko said she and others had a talk with Towe at a restaurant later that night.
"(Towe) was upset people were saying people got shot with rubber bullets," said Bretko. "I want to know why anyone was shot at all. I held one of those pepper balls in my hand. It stung my hand and hurt my eyes. This was so unnecessary."
City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen said neither he nor Towe will have any comment other than what was expressed in the joint press release.
Winters was not available for comment Friday afternoon.


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