A Woodburn man is suing the city of Salem and three police officers, alleging officers shot him with crowd control munitions and then tackled and wrongfully arrested him during a 2021 protest outside Planned Parenthood near the North Lancaster neighborhood.
The lawsuit filed by Clifford P. Eiffler-Rodriguez, 37, on Feb. 10 in Eugene U.S. District Court accuses officers of using excessive force when they shot him at close range with pepper balls and 40mm launchers. He is seeking an amount of money to be determined at trial.
Eiffler-Rodriguez said in his complaint that the officers’ conduct during the protest was based on official city policy or longstanding practice of allowing officers to use crowd control and “less than lethal” weapons against people who passively resist authorities and “pose little or no threat of harm to others.”
Salem police arrested Eiffler-Rodriguez during the protest in August 2021 at Planned Parenthood on Northeast Wolverine Street. The department at the time said his arrest followed a confrontation where people protesting against abortion and counterdemonstrators clashed, with both sides using chemical irritants and smoke fireworks.
The protest included a group called the Church at Planned Parenthood, which at the time was holding regular Tuesday evening services outside the health clinic protesting abortion.
The counter demonstration was planned to “support accessible reproductive health care and counter reactionary extremism,” according to a post Eiffler-Rodriguez shared on Facebook at the time. It came just weeks after a similar protest turned violent in July, with multiple Proud Boys attacking a counterdemonstrator.
The Salem Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation. Officials with the city of Salem could not be reached for comment Friday.
Eiffler-Rodriguez’s attorney, Alex Meggitt, told Salem Reporter on Friday that his client attended the protest “against a right-wing extremist group simply to express his opposition to their views.”
“Even though he was doing nothing illegal and presented no threat to anyone, Salem police officers responding to the protest shot him with multiple crowd control munitions from point blank range, then wrongfully arrested him. The officers’ actions were unnecessary, unjustified, and unconstitutional,” Meggitt wrote in a statement. “As a citizen of Salem, Mr. Eiffler-Rodriguez seeks to hold accountable a police department that has a history and policy of using excessive force against peaceful protesters while allowing violent extremist groups like the Proud Boys to act unimpeded.”
Eiffler-Rodriguez said in the lawsuit that the Church at Planned Parenthood’s goals included intimidating citizens from exercising their rights to health care and family planning. Those participating in the protest included members of the far-right Proud Boys. That included Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, who at that time had a warrant for his arrest, the complaint said.
Police said at the time that the event remained peaceful for around two hours before a verbal dispute between two people broke out around 8:15 p.m and turned violent.
Salem police officers then arrived in riot gear including helmets and masks, armed with batons and “less than lethal” projectiles, and announced that an unlawful assembly had been declared and told people to leave the area, according to the lawsuit.
Many of the counterprotesters left as police formed a line across Northeast Coral Avenue. Eiffler-Rodriguez said in the complaint that as he walked away from the advancing line of officers, Officer Judy Dan pushed him several times with her baton over a five- to seven-minute period.
“She apparently did not believe that Mr. Eiffler-Rodriguez was dispersing quickly enough,” the complaint says. Eiffler-Rodriguez, walking away from the officers, spoke into the megaphone he brought and voiced displeasure with the officers’ actions while remaining on the sidewalk.
Two other officers then shot Eiffler-Rodriguez with 40mm rounds and pepper balls at least three times in his chest, once in his thigh, and once on his arm, the lawsuit said. “Each impact had enough force to break the skin. The bruising from the impact munitions would last for weeks,” according to the complaint.
Eiffler-Rodriguez said in the suit that no other protesters were near him when the officers shot him.
Dan then tackled Eiffler-Rodriguez and arrested him, according to the complaint.
Marion County prosecutors charged him in September 2021 with interfering with a peace officer and harassment, naming Dan as the victim. Circuit Judge Jodie Bureta dismissed the charges in February 2022, court records showed.
“The city has, in general, failed to train officers on constitutional standards for use of force in crowd control situations,” the lawsuit said.
The complaint said the Salem protest came several weeks after the Oregon Legislature passed HB 2928 in July 2021, immediately banning police agencies from using munitions containing “chemical incapacitants” in crowd control situations that wouldn’t be considered a riot, and the munitions weren’t needed to stop “riotous behavior.”
The pepper balls one officer fired at Eiffler-Rodriguez contained chemical irritants, according to the lawsuit.
“The city of Salem was deliberately indifferent to the substantial risk that its training policies were inadequate to prevent violations of demonstrators’ rights by Salem Police Department officers,” the suit said.
This story was updated Friday afternoon after the Salem Police Department declined to comment.
Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.
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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.