Oregon Department of Justice Civil Rights Chief Intends to Sue His Agency Over Black Lives Matter Surveillance

Erious Johnson files tort claim notice and complaint with Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Erious Johnson Jr., the civil rights director for the Oregon Department of Justice, has filed both a notice of intent to sue his employer—along with a complaint to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries asserting that his civil rights have been violated.

The filings were first reported this afternoon by Oregon Public Broadcasting.

They come in response to events in September 2015, when an agent in the DOJ's criminal justice intelligence unit used a digital surveillance tool to track Johnson's Twitter activity. The agent then wrote a memo for senior DOJ officials in which he speculated that Johnson's tweets about Black Lives Matter could constitute a threat.

On Nov. 10, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum hired an outside investigator to examine whether the surveillance of Johnson's Twitter account broke an Oregon law that prohibits the gathering of personal or political information in the absence of probable cause that a crime has been committed.

The investigation found that the DOJ agent may have violated both state and federal laws.

Johnson's filings were made before that finding.

"None of Mr. Johnson's Twitter activity, including photographs, violated the Oregon Department of Justice's 'Social Media Policy.' Nor did any of his Twitter activity indicate involvement in criminal activity, or any other activity that could be reasonable considered to be threatening to public safety," Johnson wrote in an April 2, 2016 tort claim notice filed with DOJ and the Oregon Department of Administrative Services.

On April 5, Johnson filed a BOLI complaint, asserting he had been "subjected to racial discrimination and a hostile work environment for engaging in protected social media activity."

Both documents are dated before the April 11 release of the investigative report DOJ released.

The one new piece of information in both filings is that after Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum demoted Darin Tweedt, who had been head of the criminal justice section when the profiling took place, Tweedt was re-assigned to a new office three doors down from Johnson.

"This prompted Mr. Johnson to send an email to both the AG and the Deputy AG [Fred Boss] asking 'good afternoon. Didn't it occur to someone that I should have been warned that I was likely to run into Darin Tweedt in the office today?' Mr. Johnson has yet to receive a substantive response from either individual."

The state does not comment on pending litigation.