Protesters head home after the vigil. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Update: This story was updated to reflect that the Marion County District Attorney’s Office on June 29, 2020 dismissed criminal charges against all 14 people arrested during protests the previous month.
Kloie Wilson doesn’t remember the impact of being shot with pepper balls but remembers the adrenaline surge.
Wilson, a Salem resident who uses they/them pronouns, was at a protest on Monday, June 1, against police brutality that brought hundreds to Salem’s streets. Wilson, 22, said they were at the Capitol when police announced around 11 p.m. that they would begin enforcing a curfew imposed by the city.
Along with other protesters, Wilson said they headed toward Center Street but was met with Salem officers in riot gear who set off a flashbang device. Wilson said they were told to go back toward the Capitol and started doing so along with others. But Wilson said a white van pulled up and an officer started shooting pepper balls, projectiles police use to control crowds that are considered non-lethal.
Wilson was struck by one of the balls on the left and right legs before being tackled by an undercover officer, they said.
“I said, ‘I just want to go,’” Wilson recalled saying before being arrested.
Wilson was among dozens arrested during protests that broke out in Salem in late May and early June in reaction to the police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd. After vandalism and rioting accompanied the demonstrations early on, the city enacted a curfew to prevent more disturbances.
During the initial demonstrations, police arrested more than a dozen people on charges including riot, trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with officers. In an interview earlier this month, Police Chief Jerry Moore said police made the arrests to stop small groups intent on confrontations and to stop rioting.
But several protesters arrested during the June 1 protest and vigil deny breaking any laws and said they were cornered by police. One person arrested during the protests in court filings also denied breaking any laws and said she lost her job because of the felony charge of riot.
On June 29, 2020, the Marion County District Attorney’s Office dismissed criminal charges against 14 people arrested during protests the previous month. Deputy District Attorney Amy Queen said attorneys did a full review of the cases and determined they didn’t meet the threshold for the office to continue prosecuting them.
As protests against police brutality have sprung up across the country, police have also faced criticism for aggressive tactics in dealing with protesters.
Salem police officials declined to comment on the specific cases and have yet to provide arrests reports requested under the state public records law on Wednesday, June 10. In affidavits supporting the arrests of six people for riot, officers swore that protesters threw projectiles, explosive devices, water and other items at police on May 31 and June 1.
“The arrested individual was seen by officers committing the crime of rioting because there were five or more people engaging in tumultuous and violent conduct recklessly and intentionally creating a grave risk to public harm,” police said in affidavits filed in Marion County Circuit Court.
Protests have continued in Salem while those facing charges from earlier demonstrations will have courts hearings over the summer.
But Wilson, whose back and legs have been sore, said they haven’t been back to protest.
“I feel like I’m a target now,” said Wilson.
In the early hours of Monday June 1, six people, all from Salem, were arrested on accusations of riot, interfering with police, second-degree trespass and second-degree disorderly conduct after the crowd involved with the protest turned violent, according to police.
Jaimie Dehart, 20, Pablo Perez-Vergara, 23, Monica Morales-Angel, 21, Jordan Wark, 19, Bran Smith, 21, and Bryce Scanlon, 24, were all lodged in the Marion County Jail for riot and later charged with riot and interfering with police. Their plea hearings are scheduled for late June and July.
Riot is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $125,000 fine.
Lt. Treven Upkes, Salem Police Department spokesman, said protesters were throwing bottles, rocks, bricks and explosive devices at police, but said the agency wouldn’t comment on which of those arrested were throwing what. He referred that question to the Marion County District Attorney’s Office which is prosecuting the case.
Deputy District Attorney Amy Queen said her office wouldn’t provide details of the cases.
“We don’t talk about open criminal cases as far as the details that surround that,” Queen said.
She deferred to the statutory definition of riot for any insight into what the protesters might have been doing to warrant an arrest.
According to Oregon law, “A person commits the crime of riot if while participating with five or more other persons the person engages in tumultuous and violent conduct and thereby intentionally or recklessly creates a grave risk of causing public alarm.”
In a request to appear before a Marion County grand jury, one of the protesters, Dehart, said in a court filing that she didn’t participate in any “tumultuous and violent conduct” and was walking to her car when she was arrested.
Dehart’s lawyer, Jay Edwards, said in court filings that as a result, she has been furloughed without pay at both her jobs with the state, one as a nursing assistant, because of the felony charges.
“Given the coronavirus restrictions on court operations and the fact the defendant is out of custody, these charges will not be brought to trial until August or September at the earliest. Thus, it is imperative that defendant have an opportunity to clear these charges at the grand jury level as soon as possible,” Edwards wrote.
On the third night of protests, Monday, June 1, another seven people, including Wilson, were charged with interfering with a peace officer, punishable by a year in jail and a $6,250 fine.
Wilson said they were arrested around 11:25 p.m. that night, jailed for 12 hours, not read their rights and not allowed to talk to a lawyer. Wilson said they were released at about 7 a.m. the next day.
Wilson, who has never been convicted, was initially charged with riot, second-degree trespass and carrying a concealed weapon. Wilson said the last charge was from a pocket knife they were carrying that was about two to three inches long.
Jackson Swain of Keizer said that he blacked out on Monday, June 1, before being arrested. He said that he wasn’t even protesting and was just “checking it out.” He remembered losing consciousness after police used a flashbang device near the Capitol building.
He recalled a hazy memory of police putting him in the transport van. Swain remembers waking up in jail.
“It was crazy,” said Swain, 18. “I was like, what the hell? How did I get here.”
He said he’s fine now and didn’t require medical care but police denied his requests for food.
Swain said that he feels the police treated him unfairly and misused their authority. He was originally arrested for second-degree trespass but later charged with interfering with a police officer. He denies the accusation.
“I wasn’t interfering with any police officer,” he said.
Brady Tavernier said he arrived late at the protest but was arrested shortly after arriving.
Tavernier, a Silverton resident, said he drove past the demonstrations outside the Capitol earlier in the evening and wanted to join. He said he drove to the protest with a friend and parked on a street blocks away from the protest. They started walking toward the demonstrations but by that time it had been declared an unlawful assembly, he said.
He recalled explosions going off and heard police ordering protesters to go east or be arrested. Tavernier, 18, said he was trying to head in that direction but became disoriented and asked a group of people which direction was east.
At that moment, police told them to get down and arrested the group, said Tavernier.
“I tried telling the officer we were trying to leave,” said Tavernier. “He told me to shut up.”
Tavernier was also initially charged with second-degree trespass, a charge that has been reduced to interfering with a police officer.
“I honestly think they changed it to something they could more easily sell,” said Tavernier, who has no prior convictions.
He said he’s frustrated and that it feels like the police are just trying to stick him with a charge. Tavernier said his situation doesn’t help police with efforts to improve their image and relations with the community.
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Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Scanlon’s last name.