Board rules Taser use on Ian Van Ornum adhered to policy

Rena Lev-Bass

Eugene’s Civilian Review Board ruled Thursday night that Eugene police officer Judd Warden did not break department policy in tasing former University student Ian Van Ornum last May. The ruling likely means the department will not discipline Warden for the incident.
Warden tased then-18-year-old Van Ornum, who was participating in an anti-pesticide rally near Broadway and Willamette Street on May 30, 2008, when three EPD officers approached him. After forcing him to the ground, Warden twice shocked Van Ornum with the Taser device.

At Van Ornum’s trial in April, Lane County Circuit Court jurors found him guilty of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. While Assistant District Attorney Bob Lane argued that Van Ornum’s resistance led to the tasings, Van Ornum’s lawyer Laura Fine contended that her client was merely reacting in self-defense to the aggressive handcuffing.

Van Ornum attended Thursday’s meeting but said he now feels he is “detached” from the situation. He said he was “interested to hear folks discuss this issue. It’s an important one and it’s nice to hear discussion from both sides.”

While Van Ornum doesn’t take anything personally, he said, “it’s interesting to see folks talk about myself and not have their facts straight.”

At the meeting each board member was allotted 10 minutes to state his or her views based on research and review of the situation, followed by a discussion. At the meeting, board chair Rick Brissenden and board member Kate Wilkinson expressed their concerns with the actions of officers at the rally, while the four remaining members, Tim Laue, Marisa Mendoza, Snell Fontus and Bernadette Conover, said the police acted professionally.

Conover said many eyewitnesses on the scene were worried for the safety of the officers because the crowd was angry. Conover said, “The police did what you want the police to do.” In regard to the use of the Taser, Conover said she believes the eruption within the crowd occurred “before the Taser was pulled out.”

Brissenden disagreed. “I must regrettably conclude that this was largely the result of choices made and actions taken by police officers that day,” he said.

He feels that the outcome of the situations resulted from “a progression of choices,” starting with the first call to police from a Department of Homeland Security agent whom Brissenden said made an “erroneous speculation.”

He questioned why the arresting officer was on the scene before watch commanders, and sarcastically pointed out the fact that the arresting officer arrived to an environmental rally in an SUV. Using a Taser on Van Ornum, he said, “made things a lot more dangerous.”

“We need to ask ourselves what would have happened if no police went to the scene at all. My take: nothing.” Brissenden said.

In response to Brissenden’s comments, Conover said, “The choices were made before the police even got there.” Several witness comments that the board read at the meeting supported the actions of police.

Though their views on the facts of the case differed, several board members agreed that the department’s Taser policy needs revision. Laue suggested that training in Taser use and crowd control “needs to be cleaned up,” while Wilkinson insisted that the Taser policy should be reviewed.

The board also ruled on five other questions of police policy regarding the incident. They found four to be in line with the department’s policy: the force used by three officers in the arrest of Van Ornum; the display of a second Taser, which another officer placed but did not fire on protestor Anthony Farley; the force used by Warden when pushing Owen and striking Farley; and the arrest of protestor David Owen.

On the remaining question, the alleged banging of Van Ornum’s head into the pavement, the board ruled there was insufficient evidence to make a clear decision.

The board decided it would not require the city to re-open the investigation. Kerns will consider the board’s votes and comments and a final decision will be announced “fairly soon,” Police Auditor Mark Gissiner said.

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