On a recent Friday afternoon, Eugene City Councilman George Poling met off-campus with a group of University of Oregon students to discuss a Christmas Day, 2011 protest held on his front lawn by Occupy Eugene.
Poling, a Democrat, was originally invited to speak at Agate Hall, but wasn’t able to meet with students at the university—firearms aren’t permitted on Oregon campuses, and the councilman has carried a gun since the protest, he explained.
“Christmas night, they showed up at my house, started damaging my yard, damaged my fence, had their faces up against the window, chanting, making threats,” Poling, a former law enforcement officer, said. It made him feel like a “citizen under attack,” not a public servant.
Occupy Eugene member Art Bollman, one of four people arrested that night, said that the protest was motivated by the councilman’s decision to oppose allowing campfires and other open heat sources at the campsite. To Bollman, it was a typical peaceful protest. Poling considered it confrontational.
Bollman originally planned to just observe the protest, but became angry after police arrived to remove tented occupiers from the lawn, and decided to commit civil disobedience.
“What really triggered me was when one of the people in the tents was ripped out, and went limp,” Bollman said.
“Police were bouncing him on the ground, which is when I decided to go on the lawn. I chose to trespass on his front yard, and that’s why I was arrested.”
Bollman was charged with second-degree trespassing, and ultimately spent two days in jail, he said.
Poling’s decision to oppose open heat sources at the Occupy camp stemmed from procedural and political motivations, the councilman said. For one thing, the city wanted an emergency meeting to decide the issue, which Poling thought was premature.
Also, during this time, Eugene police had been sending city councilors regular emails, regarding safety at Occupy camp, which Poling said influenced his decision. The emails have since been publicly disclosed, and in them, police describe various alleged crimes being committed at the camp, mostly fistfights, drug use, or theft.
Police also document their efforts to monitor the overall health of the camp, and voice concern that disease would spread. There are also frequent references to officers shutting down impromptu campfires in the emails.
The Eugene Police Department refused a public records request asking for a police report on the lawn protest, citing Oregon state law 192.501(3). That statute says that police reports must be disclosed “unless and only for so long as there is a clear need to delay disclosure in the course of a specific investigation, including the need to protect the complaining party or the victim.”
But a 53-minute video, taken by a participant in the protest and uploaded online, has revealed most of the night’s details. In the video, a small gathering of people can be seen standing on the sidewalk outside Poling’s house, while a few individuals, dressed in tents, sit on Poling’s lawn.
Also, Poling heard occupiers that night describe a piece of his backyard that couldn’t be seen from the sidewalk, and assumed they had previously trespassed onto property.
But Bollman had an innocent and legal explanation for this inside knowledge.
“Obviously, the councilman has never heard of Google Earth,” he said. “That’s how we got the information about his backyard.”
Google Earth is an online service that allows users to see close-up satellite images, and overhead pictures shot from airplanes, of virtually any location in the world.
At this point, it’s unlikely the two sides will come to terms—Poling and Occupy members have both publicly chastised the other side for not calling a meeting, and at other times, stated publicly that they would refuse to attend such a meeting. Furthermore, the nature of the accusations coming from both sides would indicate that they’re engaged in a public battle for favorable public opinion.
Poling has accused those arrested at his house of being paid by Occupy, which Bollman flat-out denied. Bollman, meanwhile, indicated he had heard the councilman and his wife had slept through the protest, which doesn’t seem possible, since Poling’s wife is the one that called police.
“I was headed for the door,” the councilman said. “But the 9-1-1 dispatcher instructed my wife to stay inside and let the police handle it. And my wife stopped me.”
When asked if he intended to harm Poling, Bollman immediately said, “of course not,” and added that neither was anyone else at the protest in his view. Still, the incident was enough to make Poling and his wife consider moving out of town, although they ultimately decided against it, Poling said.
“We’re not [leaving,]” Poling said. “This is our home.”