UO in lawsuit over banning homeless from campus

Michael Gannon fell asleep in the Lawrence Architecture Library on Feb. 16, 2014. At 12:35 that night, two hours after the building had closed, an officer of the University of Oregon Police Department found him, woke him up, and asked him to explain why he was there. According to his attorney Brian Michaels, Gannon was only in the library by accident. He had fallen asleep before the library closed. Gannon is homeless, but Michaels says he was not using the library as a replacement for a warm bed. The officer deemed Gannon’s reason’s insufficient, so he issued him a letter of trespass, banning Gannon from all University of Oregon property for 18 months.

Letters of trespass are different than tickets. Gannon was not charged with trespassing, which would have meant a ticket and possible arrest. Instead, letters of trespass involve no tickets, just complete bans from campus.

Gannon’s attorney describes him as an avid reader, who visited the university libraries frequently. Gannon contacted an attorney and filed an appeal with UO Police Chief Carolyn McDermed on Feb. 26. Gannon felt that his constitutional rights were violated, since the university and sections of its owned property are public areas, meaning the UOPD should not be able to prohibit his access to them.

Michaels feels that Gannon is part of a history of discrimination by the university. He believes the university targeted Gannon because he is homeless.

There has been a history of homeless people on campus receiving letters of trespass, Michaels said. Gannon knows several people who have been trespassed off campus. Michaels, has seen several other cases, but Gannon’s is the first he has pursued. Other stories Michaels has heard involve people sleeping on benches and grassy areas.

“[UOPD is] using minor infractions as a trigger to kick these people off campus for 18 months,” Michaels said. He doesn’t deny that being in Lawrence after-hours was against the law.

“If they had just charged him with trespassing, I don’t think we would have fought it,” Michaels said.

The UOPD asserts that using letters of trespass is appropriate, because the offenders are “disrupting and interfering with the mission of the University of Oregon,” as outlined in the trespass notice. They deny that homeless people have been targeted in any way, said UOPD spokesman Kelly McIver, a UOPD spokesman. Because of this, Gannon’s appeal was denied by Chief McDermed on March 10.

Gannon continued to come to campus, and was spotted by the UOPD three more times throughout the year. The second time, in April 2014, he was charged with Trespassing, and the last time, on Aug. 1, 2014, he was arrested.

Gannon and and his attorney are now fighting for dismissal in Municipal Court. They still believe his ban from campus is unconstitutional. To be sure, the ban is very extensive. It covers all property owned by the university, including properties in Bend, Portland, and Charleston. If Gannon is found even walking on the sidewalk in front of a university-owned building, such as the parking lots on Alder Street or even off-campus student dorms, he could be arrested – only by a UOPD officer, not the Eugene Police.

Gannon and Michaels filed a motion to dismiss on June 9, arguing that a ban from public sidewalks and streets was unconstitutional. The only reason someone can be banned from a public place is if they pose a danger to those nearby – in this case, to UO students.

“Nothing Mr. Gannon is accused of doing would in any way be seen as a threat to the protection of the University’s students,” Michaels stated in court documents. “Mr. Gannon fell asleep once. What are the policies and procedures the University has promulgated to classify such an act worthy of exclusion for the protection of its students?”

Michaels also believes the university is a public space, so the UOPD has no right to ban Gannon from it.

“Essentially the university is no more [the UOPD’s] property than it is [Gannon’s],” he said.

The university maintains that issuing letters of trespass is within their rights. In a statement, the university said “the university’s practices regarding letters of trespass are reasonable and legal. Further comment on a pending criminal case would be inappropriate.”

The official policy surrounding Letters of Trespass states that anyone can be given one who “commits violations of ORS, OAR or University Rules,” or has “been served with a L.O.T. and returns to University property under conditions contrary to restrictions,” among other guidelines. Gannon violated both of these rules by staying in Lawrence Hall after the building closed and returning to campus after receiving a letter of trespass.

Gannon’s court date is Oct. 17. Michaels said he is surprised the city was willing to try Gannon on behalf of the university, but is using the opportunity to try and change what he sees as an “atrociously abominable policy toward the disadvantaged.”

“He hasn’t done anything but fall asleep,” Michaels said.

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Noah Mcgraw

Noah Mcgraw