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Treatment of protesters draws ACLU notice

Local volunteers take statements from people about the incident in Jacksonville during President Bush's visit

Activists and members of the American Civil Liberties Union say they may take legal action against local law enforcement for the way it treated protesters during President Bush's visit to Jacksonville in October.

Volunteer ACLU attorneys and researchers recently concluded a study into the Oct. 14 incident. They reviewed videotapes, took witness statements and collected media accounts, said Paul Copeland, Southern Oregon ACLU board member.

It was a lawful demonstration. We have good constitutional grounds here, Copeland said. Court action is being considered. There was no valid reason for the way police reacted.

The results of the study and suggested corrective actions will be discussed at 12:30 p.m. Thursday during a press conference in the Central Library's large meeting room in downtown Medford.

Police abruptly ended several hours of peaceful demonstration at about 8 p.m. when the president made an unscheduled stop at the Jacksonville Inn restaurant after giving a campaign speech at the Jackson County Expo.

— Law enforcement officials said the Secret Service gave them just three minutes to sweep more than 300 Bush supporters and demonstrators off sidewalks and two blocks east on California Street ' away from the restaurant.

During the tactical maneuver, two protesters were arrested and police fired rounds of pepper balls at some members of the crowd.

Copeland said the ACLU team has not yet formally interviewed any members of law enforcement.

But Shelley Elkovich, one of the demonstration's organizers, said she has spoken to Jacksonville Police Chief David Towe since the incident.

She said Towe expressed disappointment at the way the event concluded.

It was a good conversation, Elkovich said.

Towe was unavailable for comment on Tuesday. But in a previous interview with the , Towe said he and other law enforcement officers had met to discuss the incident. He said there were challenges in trying to follow the Secret Service's unexpected order.

Although the sweep was conducted mainly by Jackson County sheriff's deputies and Oregon State Police, Towe was officially in charge of the local police forces that evening. And all were following the orders of the Secret Service, he said.

Jacksonville City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen said Tuesday that he had not been contacted and declined to comment.

Elkovich said she videotaped 22 witnesses and collected notes from conversations and news reports.

It was a lawful assembly. I feel very strongly that police behaved inappropriately and our rights were abused, she said. It won't stop here.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail .