The Oregon Department of Justice’s civil rights director is suing Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and other department employees for subjecting him to racial profiling.
In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, Erious Johnson alleges DOJ special agents identified him as a “threat to police” based on a threat assessment performed with a software program that examined social media postings.
In addition to Rosenblum, the suit names as defendants Deputy Attorney General Frederick Boss, DOJ Chief Counsel Darin Tweedt, Special Agent in Charge David Kirby, and Special Agent James Williams.
The lawsuit claims that in September 2015 Williams used a software program called Digital Stakeout to search terms, including the Twitter hashtag, “#blacklivesmatter,” in the Salem area. That search produced an image of Johnson and prompted Williams to download Johnson’s entire Twitter account, according to the lawsuit.
A post on Johnson’s account containing lyrics to a rap song by Public Enemy and an image of the group’s logo led Williams to believe Johnson presented a threat to police, the lawsuit states.
Williams shared his concerns with Kirby, who was his supervisor. Kirby consulted Tweedt, who recommended a written assessment. Boss approved the written assessment. After Williams prepared the assessment, he submitted it to the department’s counsel for review.
Johnson alleges that investigators never attempted to contact him or independently verify information, which was a violation of department policy. He didn’t learn of the assessment until about two weeks after Boss and Rosenblum received the report.
According to the suit, Williams had no reasonable suspicion of a crime, and was not involved in a criminal investigation when he performed the original assessment.
Johnson claims the defendants violated his First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.
The Attorney General’s Office issued a statement Wednesday noting that Rosenblum has replaced staff members involved in the digital search of Johnson’s tweets and taken steps to help prevent racial profiling. She fired Williams last summer and demoted Tweedt in January. Kirby left his post in May to become operations integrity director of Privateer Holdings in Seattle, according to his LinkedIn page.
DOJ employees also will be required to undergo cultural competency and implicit bias training, beginning next month, said Kristina Edmundson, a department spokeswoman.
The attorney general still considers Johnson “a valued member of her inner circle staff, as he serves as her outreach director to diverse communities throughout the state,” Edmundson said.