Under the guise of the War on Drugs, a kaleidoscope of government agencies are waging an almost unprecedented war against the civil liberties of American citizens. They include paramilitary assaults on civilians under the guise of drug raids, physical intrusions into homes, involuntary searches of African-Americans and Hispanics who meet racist "drug dealer profiles," and forced indoctrination sessions at public schools where children are encouraged to turn in their parents.
These attacks on your constitutional rights are well known. They are repeatedly documented and applauded by the establishment media in television shows like Cops, and in numerous newspaper editorials calling for even stiffer penalties for drug users. But law enforcement authorities are also running a quieter harassment campaign against citizen activists who criticize the War on Drugs. This campaign is even more insidious than the blatant drug raids and race-based searches because it targets people for their political ideas.
One local person who claims to have been a victim of this campaign is Floyd Ferris Landrath, a pro-marijuana legalization advocate. Landrath says that, because of his activism, he's been harassed by agents of the City of Portland for several years. As a result, he's filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against more than 40 city employees and elected officials, including Mayor Vera Katz, the City Council, and Portland Police Chief Charles Moose. The suit alleges that the these employees and officials have conspired to obstruct his free speech rights.
Within the marijuana legalization community, Landrath is known as "Mr. Hemp" for his 1993 attempt to convert the Sunnyside neighborhood into a "Hemp Free Zone." Landrath's initiative would have directed law enforcement agencies to give the lowest priority to marijuana-related offenses in the Southeast Portland community around Hawthorne and Belmont streets. The proposal garnered national attention, and resulted in the largest public attendance ever for the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association meeting that considered it. Despite the support Landrath marshalled for his initiative, it lost by a margin of almost two to one.
Even though he was defeated at the Association meeting, Landrath charges that the City of Portland retaliated against him two months later for raising the issue in the first place. On May 20, 1993, the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association held its annual meeting to elect a new board of directors. Landrath arrived early and set out some literature on the only table designated for such material. Some of it was directly related to the scheduled election, including a leaflet which contained his views on the qualifications of the various candidates. He also placed a petition on the table urging the Sunnyside board to support the rights of individuals to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Fifteen minutes later, Landrath was asked to remove the material by Lavinia Marx, then chair of the Sunnyside Association's board of directors.
Citing his First Amendment rights, Landrath refused to remove his political literature. Marx then asked that Landrath leave the meeting, a request that he refused. The Association meeting was a public meeting under Oregon law, and Landrath had done nothing to disturb it.
Marx went in the back room with other members of the Association's board. Three Portland police officers accompanied them. When they emerged, Landrath was arrested for criminal trespass. As officers carried Landrath off, Mary Ann Schwab, a representative from Southeast Uplift gathered up Landrath's materials and gave them to the police. Southeast Uplift is the official liaison between individual neighborhood associations and the City of Portland, meaning that Schwab was at the meeting as a representative of the city government.
Landrath was held for the duration of the meeting, effectively preventing him from participating in the selection of a new board. When he was released, no charges were filed. His materials remained in police custody.
Why did the police arrest Landrath if he wasn't charged with any crime? An interview conducted by the Southeast Examiner newspaper with one of the officers at the meeting reveals that Landrath was held for political reasons. As reported by the paper, when Sergeant Lanny Bennett was asked why Landrath was arrested, he gave no indication of any specific law being broken. Instead, Bennet lapsed into a diatribe against Landrath's stand on drugs. "Our concern is the word drugs," the police sergeant said. "You understand, we're cops and we're against drugs. We don't believe drugs are good in any form. We're totally against what Floyd stands for."
This means that Landrath was not excluded from the meeting because he broke any law, but because the police disagreed with his political views. This was a blatant violation of Landrath's First Amendment Rights, and it was encouraged (if not actually arranged) by the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association and Southeast Uplift. And, as it turned out, this wasn't the only time these public agencies crossed the line from from law enforcement to political harassment.
Later in 1993, Landrath scheduled a "Hemp Awareness Weekend," a two-day concert and speak-out in favor of marijuana legalization." It was to be held on the weekend of July 30 through August 1 at the Mt. Tabor Pub and Movie Theater, located in the Sunnyside neighborhood at 4811 SE Hawthorne. On July 20, two months after Landrath's arrest and ten days before the event, Mark Meek, Mt. Tabor's owner and operator, was visited by a small delegation, including representatives from Southeast Uplift and the Richmond and Sunnyside neighborhood associations. Meek had been told the meeting was to discuss the hiring of security guards by business owners. It was immediately apparent, however, that the actual purpose of the meeting was something else. Put bluntly, it was a power play. The line-up of people visiting Meek's establishment was one strong indication of the strong-arming which was to follow.
In addition to the neighborhood representatives, the delegation included John Wernecken of the Liquor License Division of the city's Bureau of Licenses, who also serves as the city's liaison to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The delegation also included Portland Police Officer Larry Siewert. If Siewert's name seems familiar, it's with good reason. He was one of the Portland police officers accused of illegally gathering information on those engaged in lawful political activity. Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Michael Marcus recently ruled that the bureau violated the civil rights of local activist Douglas Squirrel by compiling purely political information on him.
As it turned out, the city employees had requested the meeting with Meek to pressure him into changing the upcoming Hemp Awareness Weekend. Once the group got the Mt. Tabor owner behind closed doors, they began acting like gangsters in old black and white movies offering the poor merchant "protection." The group demanded that handbills using the word "hemp" be removed from the neighborhood, and that the word "hemp" be taken down from the marquee. The following day, Meek was given the additional demand that Landrath be barred from speaking at the event.
Meek felt no choice but to give in. He only had a temporary liquor license for the Mt. Tabor Theater and Pub, and feared that he would lose it if he objected. Obviously, Meek couldn't operate a pub without a liquor license. Fearing for the viability of his business, Meek unhappily complied.
After his civil rights were violated for the second time, Landrath decided to sue the City of Portland. On August 3, 1993, his attorneys filed a Notice of Tort Claim with the city - the first step in a formal suit. Copies of the claim were sent to offices of the City Attorney, Bureau of Risk Management, and the Office of Finance and Administration. Recounted in these were the previous incidents. While the offices acknowledged receiving the Notice, there was no other response from the City for more than ninety days, the maximum time required.
Landrath decided to give the city another chance to settle. His attorneys sent more letters asking for action in ten days, and requesting that City Attorney John Rogers personally intervene. Rogers responded in December, saying that Nancy Ayres, the senior deputy City Attorney would investigate the matter. But before Ayres' investigation was completed, Landrath was arrested for expressing his First Amendment rights again.
In March 1994, Portland police officers stopped by a free food table that Landrath was operating at SE 37th and Hawthorne. Landrath has given food away for years in the Sunnyside neighborhood as part of a project he calls the "Hunger Free Zone." According to the 911 tape from that day, someone complained about the size of the crowd gathered around Landrath's table. When the officers arrived, however, they turned their attention to a sign that read "Free Marijuana" prominently displayed on the table. Landrath claims the word "free" was being used in the sense of setting something free. Rather than responding to the problem of the crowd the police approached Landrath and told him to remove the sign. When he cited his constitutional rights, he was arrested. Two separate police reports were filed on this incident. One claimed that Landrath was arrested for "obstruction." The second said he'd been arrested for "failure to obey a lawful order." In the end, however, no formal charges were ever brought against Landrath from this incident, meaning that the arrest was just pure political harassment - again.
Despite this second false arrest, Landrath was still willing to give the city a chance to settle his claim without going to court. Over the next few months, he sent a series of letters to Mayor Katz, the members of the City Council, and the offices of the City Attorney and the Bureau of Risk Management (which evaluates and pays claims against the city). Most of the letters drew no response. The few replies that Landrath received, however, indicated that the city was not taking his case seriously. For example, city commissioners Gretchen Kafoury and Earl Blumenauer directed him to two different agencies.
Then, on July 27, 1994, Senior Deputy City Attorney Mary Danford sent a letter to Landrath denying all of his claims. Landrath responded by writing to the City Council, suggesting they hire an impartial attorney to evaluate the facts. Mayor Katz replied on October 7 with a letter stating that no further investigation was necessary. In her letter, Katz said she was speaking on behalf of the entire Council.
During the course of this correspondence, Landrath realized that his complaints had essentially been investigated by the same agencies which had either violated his rights in the first place, or not taken his initial complaints seriously. For example, the City Attorney's Office told Landrath that his complaints against the police were being investigated by the police. When Landrath complained to the Mayor about the attitude of the City Attorney's Office, that's who she referred the matter to.
Feeling no other recourse, Landrath filed a civil rights suit in federal court. In his suit, he named the Mayor, the City Council, various Portland police officers and members of the City Attorney's Office as defendants. Landrath also asked that the City Attorney's Office stop representing the city because of its status as a defendant in the case. City Attorney Jeff Rogers declined, but also refused to be served on the suit by a representative of the U.S. Marshal's Office at one point.
After the suit was filed, the City Attorney's Office embarked on a series of tactics which seem designed to simply wear Landrath down. Among other things, Rogers assigned the case to a new attorney who had been with the office four months and was seven months pregnant. Being new, she would be constantly turning to Rogers and other defendants for supervision. Being pregnant also meant that she would be unavailable for some period of time after the filing of the case. The City Attorney's Office also refused to comply with discovery requests for copies of interviews conducted with other defendants.
Finally, in early 1996, Landrath's attorney proposed a settlement. He offered to drop the suit in exchange for terms which included $150,000 in damages and attorney's fees, and the adoption of city policies which would prevent similar incidents in the future. The City Attorney's Office responded by agreeing to mediation. Landrath's attorney accepted the offer of mediation and "suspended" the case. Once mediation began, however, it quickly became apparent that the City Attorney's Office wasn't serious. It offered only $10,000 to settle the case - $7,000 for damages and $3,000 for attorneys fees. At this point, Landrath's attorneys had put three years and 750 hours into the case, largely because of the city's constant stalling actions. At $3,000, the settlement would have compensated them at a rate less than the minimum wage. Landrath himself had suffered numerous civil rights violations over the course of three years, and knew that he could still be arrested at any time for his beliefs. Because of that, Landrath and his attorneys concluded that the City's offer was not made in good faith and they rejected it.
In late July of this year, Landrath's attorneys filed an amended complaint in federal court, naming a number of additional defendants. A trial date should be announced by the end of the month. Although it's taken more than three years, the City of Portland will finally have to explain why they have conspired to deprive Floyd Ferris Landrath of his free speech rights.
As part of the research into their case against the City of Portland, Floyd Ferris Landrath and his attorneys discovered other examples of illegal government attempts to harass and silence those who would legalize hemp. Other incidents have been reported in the press in recent months. They include the following:
Paul Stanford, chief petitioner for the initiative, brought this to the attention of both Mayor Vera Katz and the City Attorney's Office. Both refused to take action. Jenson has since been placed in charge of the bureau's Internal Affairs Division, which means he is in charge of investigating any allegation of wrong doing by police officers.
When the permit was granted, Crane and other police officers organized a gathering to be held the same day as the Hemp Fest in an adjacent location. The gathering highlighted the technology used in the War on Drugs.
A similar incident to the Eugene one almost took place at the 1996 Portland Hemp Fest, held June 22 in a northeast Portland park. Again, a merchant prominently displayed an illegal marijuana plant. Again, when police surrounded the merchant to make an arrest, certain people began shouting for the arrest to be blocked. Fortunately no riot ensued. Curiously, the arrested individual, facing felony charges Saturday, was released Monday with no filed complaint.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE CITY ATTORNEY?
Whatever your opinion is of the marijuana legalization movement, the situation involving Floyd Ferris Landrath raises serious questions about the operation of the Portland City Attorney's Office.
There's no question that Landrath's civil rights were violated on more than one occasion. City Attorney Jeff Rogers all but acknowledged that by offering to settle with him. But Rogers' office also engaged in a pattern of obfuscation that was designed only to frustrate Landrath and to delay him from receiving justice.
Because the City Attorney's Office is the official legal representative of the entire city, this should be a matter of concern for all Portlanders. And Landrath's situation isn't an isolated case. City employees have violated the rights of Portland residents on many occasions in the past. For example, John Senteno, an innocent bystander, was shot by police during a paramilitary drug raid. Dr. Doug Larson, a scientist and college professor, was censored and defamed by managers of the Portland Water Bureau when he complained about the pollution of our water supply. And Dale Sherbourne, a waste water treatment worker, was harassed and terminated when he turned whistleblower.
In each of these cases, the guilt of the city was obvious. And in each of these cases, the City Attorney's Office fought tooth and nail to defend the illegal conduct. In each case, litigation exceeded a year. And in each of these cases, the lion's share of judgments which were eventually awarded went to pay the legal expenses of the wronged party.
All this proves that the City Attorney's Office is little more than a legal pit bull that instinctively justifies the actions of city employees and officials, regardless of how wrong they may be. And we all pay for this attitude with our tax dollars when their tactics raise the price of the eventual judgements.
What is desperately needed is a system which deals honestly with its own mistakes. If city employees - be they police officers, neighborhood association liaisons or city commissioners - break laws, they should acknowledge their wrongdoing and compensate the victims. Until such a system can be put in place, all that will be created is a growing amount of cynicism felt by an ever growing number of victims.
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