BEND, ORE – The ACLU of Oregon is fighting on behalf of a local racial justice organization targeted by the City of Bend in an unfair lawsuit for seeking public records that could potentially shed light on the City’s disparate treatment of people based on political viewpoints.
The City of Bend has been violating the law and the principles of good governance by requiring excessive fees for the release of public records that relate to matters of significant concern and that the community is entitled to have. Instead of providing those records with a fee waiver as ordered by the district attorney, the city sued community member Michael Satcher and the Central Oregon Peacekeepers.
The Central Oregon Peacekeepers are now represented in this legal fight by the ACLU of Oregon with cooperating attorneys Rian Peck and Alan Kessler of Visible Law.
Wednesday morning, these attorneys filed an answer to the City of Bend’s lawsuit and a counterclaim seeking a declaration that the City’s fees are excessive.
More background information is below the the quotes
ACLU of Oregon Cooperating Attorney Rian Peck
The City of Bend’s decision to sue racial justice advocates to keep its records unaffordable and inaccessible cuts at government transparency and fundamental notions of democracy.
The City of Bend's primary argument for the exorbitant fee it imposed was that the Central Oregon Peacekeepers asked for a lot of documents and it will take a lot of time to review them. What the City fails to mention, however, is that at the same time it was charging the Peacekeepers $71.06 per hour to review the documents, it charged someone else who submitted a public records request just days before only $30 per hour – less than half of what the City is imposing on the Peacekeepers as a racial justice advocacy organization.
It is repugnant to Oregon's public records law that the City charges different parties with different perceived affiliations or motives such wildly different fees for processing their public records requests. The City must remember it exists to serve the public; it does not exist to shield itself from potential criticism, or to deem only certain citizens worthy of receiving access to its public records.
Central Oregon Peacekeepers founder Luke Richter
We are just seeking the truth and the city is coming after us for it. We can’t fix our broken policing system if those in charge are willing to break the law and punish the truth seekers in order to hide its actions.
There are elected officials in town who campaigned on transparency with the community and accountability for the police department. The fact they are unwilling to back us up and the fact that nobody’s been truthful from the City, from the top down, feels like a big slap in the face.
ACLU of Oregon Cooperating Attorney Alan Kessler
I know how intimidating it feels to be sued by the government for seeking the truth – I am currently facing a similar lawsuit from the City of Portland related to one of my own public records requests. You shouldn’t have to go to law school to obtain routine records your government owes you, but here we are.
I’m proud to partner with the ACLU to fight for the Central Oregon Peacekeepers. Truth will prevail.
Central Oregon Peacekeepers member Michael Satcher, who filed the original records request before getting sued by the city
This goes back to the Peacekeepers’ mission, which is to keep people safe. The more information we have about public bodies, the safer we are. The more accountable a public body is, the safer the people in the community are.
Bend police in particular have hidden behind their own silence for too long and have essentially gotten away with everything. They need to know that somebody’s watching, and that somebody’s looking for the truth. If the Bend Police Department knows we can’t be intimidated and that the truth will come out, that’s going to change their behavior in the long term and cause them to treat people with the respect they deserve.
ACLU of Oregon Interim Legal Director Kelly Simon
Transparent government practices are essential for protecting our democracy and ensuring government accountability. It is imperative that local government bodies, like the City of Bend, are investing in free and fair access to public records, and removing barriers to transparency like the excessive fees that were demanded in this case.
After Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd last year, Bend resident Luke Richter founded the Central Oregon Peacekeepers to advocate for racial justice, organize rallies, provide aid to vulnerable people, and offer protection for marginalized community members.
In October, the Peacekeepers organized a gathering of racial justice advocates at Pilot Butte Park in Bend. Armed pro-Trump counterprotesters physically confronted the group, but when the Bend Police Department showed up, the Peacekeepers noticed rough treatment towards them and deference towards the pro-Trump group.
“Seeing the trauma that it brought to the entire community, we knew we can’t sit by,” said Luke Richter. “It was an easy decision that we need to figure out what happened that day.”
In January, Bend resident and Central Oregon Peacekeepers member Michael Satcher filed a public records request designed to investigate the relationship between the Bend Police Department and demonstrators who antagonize racial justice advocates.
But the City quoted Satcher and the Peacekeepers more than $3,000 to process their public records request.
Satcher and the Peacekeepers asked for a public interest fee waiver. The City responded by offering a 25 percent fee reduction, which still made the records inaccessible to this group of volunteers.
They appealed the City’s decision to District Attorney John Hummel, who agreed with Satcher and the Peacekeepers that they were entitled to a public interest fee waiver and that the City’s proposed fee waiver was arbitrary and capricious. He ordered the City to waive all fees.
The Oregon Public Records Act permits the public to request records from public entities, like the City of Bend. Though it allows public entities to charge a reasonable fee that represents their actual cost for searching for, reviewing, and producing those public records, it also provides for a public interest fee waiver.
After Hummel sided with the Peacekeepers, the City began producing the records, but last month filed a lawsuit against Satcher and the Peacekeepers for the money it incorrectly believes it is entitled to.
The city is wrong to target community members for seeking the truth.
Media may use these photographs of the Central Oregon Peacekeepers. They were taken by Doug Brown of the ACLU of Oregon on Saturday, April 10, in Bend, as they provided food and supplies to folks experiencing homelessness.