The Independent Party of Oregon on Friday joined an increasing number of high-profile voices criticizing the state’s decision to force the resignation of the Department of Justice’s top civil rights attorney, Erious Johnson Jr.
Johnson, the agency’s only black senior assistant attorney general, was racially profiled by his coworkers over sending out a tweet related to the Black Lives Matter movement. He filed a federal civil rights complaint against DOJ alleging discrimination and violation of constitutional rights.
State negotiators with the state Department of Administrative Services offered to pay Johnson $205,000 to settle the case but required him to resign as a condition of payment.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has distanced herself from the forced resignation. Her spokeswoman, Kristina Edmunson, told Pamplin/EO Capital Bureau earlier this week that Rosenblum did not request Johnson’s resignation.
When asked whether Rosenblum could have saved Johnson’s job, Edmunson replied: “Erious and his lawyer voluntarily accepted the settlement offer from DAS. The (attorney general) was notified after the settlement was accepted.”
IPO Secretary Sal Peralta and Rob Harris, a member of the IPO State Council, said they “flatly reject that statement as an obvious deflection. Attorney General Rosenblum is a constitutional officer and is responsible for the decisions of her office.”
Driving Johnson out of the DOJ is “extremely troubling” and has “a chilling effect on employment rights,” the IPO council members wrote in a joint statement Oct. 20.
Peralta said he was disappointed that no elected Democrats or Republicans have spoken out on Johnson’s behalf and said it was a sign of the state’s “dysfunctional” political system.
No elected Democrats or Republicans have issued official statements or news releases in regard to the settlement.
However, at least one lawmaker from each party has condemned the decision via their social media accounts. Rep. Diego Hernandez, an outspoken Democratic freshman lawmaker from East Portland, earlier this week wrote on Facebook that he didn’t want to live in an Oregon where the target of a racial profiling scheme was forced out of DOJ, while his white profilers kept their jobs.
Meanwhile, Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, responded to Rosenblum’s statements with the same skepticism as the IPO council members.
“Does DOJ have documentation the (attorney general) fought for (Johnson) to stay?” Parrish tweeted. “If there’s no statutory requirement to fire him then her silence speaks volumes.”
Johnson’s forced resignation came two months after a state arbitrator ordered Rosenblum to reinstate the DOJ agent who tracked Johnson’s social media activity and labeled the senior assistant attorney general as a threat to law enforcement. Rosenblum had fired Agent James Williams last year in the wake of the scandal over the #BlackLivesMatter profiling, but he successfully challenged his termination.
Two others involved in the profiling of Johnson — Special Agent in Charge David Kirby and Darin Tweedt, director of the Criminal Justice Division — were not forced to leave the DOJ.
Kirby voluntarily left his post in May 2016 to accept a position as operations integrity director at Privateer Holdings in Seattle. Rosenblum demoted Tweedt from his director’s position to a senior assistant general in the DOJ Civil Recovery Section, cutting his pay from $14,523 to $11,346 per month.
Johnson had wanted to stay at the justice department indefinitely to see out his work on anti-racial profiling measures, said Beth Creighton, the lawyer who represented him in the case. Johnson was involved in an attorney general’s task force that crafted anti-racial profiling, which lawmakers approved earlier this year.
He is now looking for another job.