ACLU Sues Oregon Department of Corrections Over Denial of Medical Care to Transgender Prisoner

Lawsuit highlights relentless suffering of transgender prisoner and demands medically-necessary care for all transgender prisoners 


October 17, 2016 - The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon (ACLU of Oregon) filed a lawsuit today in federal court against the officials at the Oregon Department of Corrections on behalf of a transgender prisoner who is being denied essential medical care. The suit, on behalf of Michelle Wright, a transgender woman who is currently housed at Two Rivers Correctional Facility, argues that it is cruel and unusual to deny medically-necessary care to prisoners. 

“The Oregon Department of Corrections is denying our client lifesaving care,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon. 

Wright, age 25, felt a deep disconnect between the gender she was assigned at birth and her female gender since childhood. Although she identified as transgender, she was unable to begin hormone therapy prior to her incarceration. According to the complaint, Wright has been denied medical care despite submitting nearly 100 requests. Facing repeated denials of care, she has attempted suicide multiple times and, on three occasions, attempted to castrate herself. 

“At this point, I’m afraid I will lose her forever,” said an emotional Victoria Wright, mother of the plaintiff. “She should be held accountable for her mistakes, but I’m worried she is being damaged in prison in a way that might not be fixable.”


Portland Police Body Camera Policy is Critical for Accountability

body cam imageOctober 4, 2016 -  The Portland City Council will soon vote on whether to ratify an agreement with the Portland Police Association about a new police union contract and a draft body camera policy. The agreement creates a serious risk that body cameras will not serve as a tool for accountability in Portland by giving the Portland Police Association too much power over the contents of the body camera policy. Because of this, and concerns that the public was shut out of negotiations over the police union contract, we have asked the Portland City Council not to ratify the agreement. 

Police body cameras have the potential to serve as a much-needed police oversight tool, but if the technology is to be effective at providing oversight, reducing police abuses, and increasing community trust, it is vital that the cameras be deployed with good policies to ensure they accomplish those goals. Without good policies, body cameras risk becoming just another police surveillance device—and one with very real potential to invade privacy.


Speech, Trademark, and Rock & Roll

UPDATE (9/29/16): The United States Supreme Court has announced it will hear the case to decide if The Slants have the First Amendment Right to use their name.

The Slants Band photoOctober 1, 2015 - Lawyers from the ACLU of Oregon and the ACLU filed an amicus brief with the Federal Circuit in support of an Asian-American band appealing the denial of a trademark for their name, “The Slants.”

Founded in 2006, The Slants are a household name in the Portland rock scene. Self-labeled the world’s only “Chinatown dance rock band,” the Asian heritage of its four members influences their music, lyrics, and image. The bandmates chose to name themselves The Slants as a reference to their perspective (or ‘slant’) on life as people of color. Additionally, it would help re-appropriate a racially-charged term and remove its derogatory sting. Simon Shiao Tam, the band’s founder and bassist, applied to register the band’s name as a federally recognized trademark. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied The Slants application pursuant to federal law thatgives the PTO the authority to reject trademarks it deems disparaging.


Oregon Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police Issue Statement in Support of a New Approach to Drug Policy

September 26, 2016 - The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon applauds the Oregon sheriffs and chiefs of police for their statement today supporting a new approach to drug policy in our state, including a recommendation to charge drug possesion as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Kimberly McCullough, legislative director at the ACLU of Oregon, said:

“We are encouraged that Oregon law enforcement recognize that harsh drug laws have been a failure, wasting taxpayer money and disproportionately impacting communities of color. Criminalization does not help people struggling with addiction and often exacerbates their problems. There are more effective ways to use Oregon’s limited resources to address this public health issue.”

David Rogers, executive director at the ACLU of Oregon, said:

“Longer criminal sentences are not always the path to justice, safety, or solving challenging social problems. I am pleased to see Oregon law enforcement leaders promoting a smarter approach in our state. Policies that prevent people from rebuilding their lives are bad for Oregon. When someone is charged with a felony drug crime it can follow them for life, preventing access to housing, employment, education, and more.”


Stand with Standing Rock

ACLU of Oregon Statement of Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux

ACLU "Stand with Standing Rock" text over photo of gate and protest signsSeptember 22, 2016 - The ACLU of Oregon has long been committed to supporting and defending the rights of indigenous people and communities. We recognize the vital roles peaceful protest, nonviolent civil disobedience, and activism play in defending our civil and human rights. We stand with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its allied indigenous nations and supporters across the globe as they speak out against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  As such, we denounce any government suppression of the right to protest and militarized policing of protesters by the state of North Dakota. 

Help us stand with Standing Rock. Sign our petition.


Oregon Supreme Court Ruling in Eugene Taser Case Strengthens Public’s Right to Records

ACLU Lawsuit Increases Transparency in Police Use of Force Inquiries

still from video of tasing incident shows man on ground with two police standing over himSeptember 15, 2016 – The Oregon Supreme Court ruled today that the City of Eugene must turn over records to the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon in their inquiry into the high profile use of force against Eugene protester Ian Van Ornum. In 2008, Van Ornum was twice tased while peacefully protesting against the use of pesticides in downtown Eugene.

The City of Eugene relied on an exemption to the public records law to deny the release of documents in the case. 

In the unanimous decision, the court said that the public has strong interest in police oversight.

 “Without mutual trust, the police cannot do their work effectively and the public cannot feel safe,” wrote Oregon Supreme Court Justice Martha Walters. “One way to promote that necessary mutual trust is to make police practices and procedures transparent and to make complaints about police misconduct and the discipline that is or is not meted out open to public inspection.”

The decision reinforces the strong public interest in disclosure of information about the use of force by officers, alleged police misconduct, and the process by which those allegations are reviewed. 

Oregon law says that when an investigation does not result in discipline of any public safety officer then the records will not be released except “when the public interest requires disclosure of the information.” 

With this decision, the court places significant value in the public interest exceptions in Oregon’s public records laws. This will be very important in future public records requests, particularly requests that relate to video captured by police body cameras or dashboard cameras on patrol cars.

Kimberly McCullough, ACLU of Oregon’s legislative director, said the case was a very significant win for Oregonians. 

“Today is a big day for police accountability in Oregon,” said McCullough. “In this time of national concern regarding what is appropriate police conduct, we are proud that Oregon’s answer is now to shed more light on the review process.”