Oregon DOJ employee on paid leave after investigating 'black liv - KPTV - FOX 12

Oregon DOJ employee on paid leave after investigating 'black lives matter' postings

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An investigator in the Oregon Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Division is on paid administrative leave after gathering digital information on Oregonians who used the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter.

“This may have implications for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Oregonians,” said Mat Dos Santos, legal director for the ACLU of Oregon. “Right now, we really want to know more about what happened – the context, the scope, and the extent to which people were targeted.”

But so far, those answers remain unclear.

The fact that an employee was conducting such a search only came to light after the search led to the Twitter account of the DOJ’s own Director of Civil Rights, Erious Johnson. 

At that point, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum was notified. She called Johnson into her office for a meeting and told him what happened.

In a statement released to Fox 12, Rosenblum said:

“I recently became aware that an employee of the Oregon DOJ Criminal Division was conducting a digital search of Twitter hashtags including #blacklivesmatter, that led him to the Twitter account of a close and trusted member of my inner circle staff, Erious Johnson Jr. I informed Mr. Johnson of this, told him that I was outraged by it, and that I had immediately ordered a stop to it. I am working to engage a Special Assistant Attorney General to conduct a complete HR investigation and audit to get to the bottom of this deeply troubling situation.”

Johnson’s wife, Nkenge Harmon Johnson, is the president of the Urban League of Portland.

In a letter to Urban League members, she wrote in part: “…my family has become a target… I am personally involved in this absurdity” and:

“Regardless of one’s civic or political affiliation, we are each entitled to engage in public discourse without the interference of Big Brother. We are allowed to post online family photos, recipes, cartoons, movie reviews, articles, and other items that interest us without the threat of intrusion from law enforcement. Yes, Black Lives Matter online, at work and at home. Privacy, the Constitution, and our right to freedom of speech matter, too. When there is probable cause to suspect that a crime has been committed, law enforcement can and should investigate. But what motivation could the Oregon Department of Justice Criminal Justice Division have had for conducting a threat assessment of my husband in the first place, let alone creating a file, and delivering it to the Attorney General, for further action? Yet, when nothing threatening was found, the department continued its investigation and escalation. If they labeled him a threat, who else is being wrongly targeted in this way?”

Dos Santos said the ACLU will be filing records requests to learn more about what happened.

He said there is a statute in Oregon prohibiting law enforcement from collecting data based on political, religious or social views, but the collection of such data may also have constitutional implications with freedom of speech.

“If you have an issue like Black Lives Matter and you want to talk about it on social media, are you going to talk about it?” he added.  “Are you going to think twice before you post about it if you know that the government is watching you?”

So far, it isn’t clear how many people have been affected, what data was gathered, how it was used, or to what level personal information may have been compromised.

“That’s what makes this so scary,” Dos Santos said.  “We have no idea.  Why they took that information and how they used it to start looking into people’s personal lives is a complete unknown for us right now.”

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