ILWU Files Suit Alleging Police Brutality
by Tilde Herrera
PORTLAND, Ore. - The International Longshore and Warehouse Union filed a lawsuit against Cowlitz County, its sheriff and the city of Longview's police chief Thursday alleging police brutality.
The ILWU Local 21 is in a labor dispute with EGT Development at the Port of Longview. It says its members should be allowed to work at a new terminal but EGT has hired workers from a Portland-based union.
The union has attempted to keep trains carrying grain from reaching the terminal. The protests have resulted in about 200 arrests this summer, according to the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office.
"The ILWU is filing this lawsuit to stop the abuse of longshore workers and their supporters who are being violently pursued and intentionally prosecuted for exercising their free speech and associational rights," said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath in a statement. "Longshore workers and their supporters are no longer free to move about their hometown without fear of being ambushed in front of children and families by an overzealous, out-of-control Police Chief and Sheriff. This blatant abuse of authority has to stop."
The union accuses law enforcement of constantly harassing its members through aggressive and intrusive surveillance techniques. It also alleges police are arresting members for misdemeanors that usually only merit citations, acting aggressively and brutally toward members while arresting them without cause and not arresting members when they turn themselves in; instead, the union says police are arresting their members in "made-for-television-style scenes."
Federal officials have accused the union of damaging property and making death threats.
A spokesman for the sheriff declined to comment on the lawsuit because officials hadn't had a chance to review it, but he says the department disputes allegations of abuse or excessive force.
Meanwhile, two longshoremen arrested in a scuffle with police Wednesday appeared in court Thursday. Byron Jacobs, 28, and 54-year-old Michael Muller face felony charges of assault on a police officer.
Jacobs also faces a harassment charge.
Read the lawsuit filed Thursday.
Sheriff says Longview union strife costly
The Cowlitz County sheriff says continuing labor strife at a Port of Longview grain terminal is straining nerves and budgets.
Sheriff Mark Nelson told The Daily News a federal court should hurry its decision on whether operators are required to hire members of the Longshore Union.
The county has already spent at least $40,000 in overtime responding to demonstrations and violence at the EGT terminal. And that was before Wednesday's demonstration when about a dozen people who attempted to block a grain train were arrested and accused of trespassing.
A federal court is expected to decide the union's role in a lease contract next spring. The sheriff says the court should recognize this is an urgent situation that can't "sit on the shelf for six to eight months."
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