A state investigator who was accused of racially profiling Oregon’s top civil rights lawyer is suing the state Department of Justice again, saying his employer retaliated against him for whistleblowing.
James Williams was fired from his job in 2016, nearly a year after using a surveillance program to report that Erious Johnson Jr., the department’s director of civil rights, was using the Black Lives Matter hashtag on Twitter.
Williams filed a federal lawsuit in March 2017 saying he was wrongfully terminated and an arbitrator reinstated him that September. In his new lawsuit filed Monday in Marion County Court, he says he has suffered “emotional stress and trauma in the workplace” since his reinstatement and has looked for work elsewhere but can’t find another job.
The suit claims the Justice Department has treated Williams “as insubordinate, as racist, as the problem, publicly disparaged and defamed him, and illegally terminated him, only reinstating him when ordered to by an arbitrator.”
The suit also says a federal judge did not address whistleblowing claims made in his 2017 lawsuit and seeks $300,000 in economic and noneconomic damages.
The Justice Department didn’t respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Williams declined to comment through his attorney and requested privacy.
Williams served as a Klamath Falls police officer for nine years and a military police officer for five years before being hired as a criminal investigator for the department in 2010. He began working at the Oregon TITAN Fusion Center, a special branch of the Department of Justice that works to analyze officer safety, general crime and terrorism, in 2014. There, his job was to “investigate and assess possible threat assessments for both localand national law enforcement agencies,” according to the suit.
In his 2017 wrongful termination suit, Williams said he had been contacted by federal officials who suggested he investigate possible planned protests around the release of the movie “Straight Outta Compton.”
But in his new lawsuit, Williams doesn’t mention the tip, instead saying that he was “testing out” a new cybersurveillance software, Digital Stakeout, after receiving training for it in September 2015. Williams says he searched for terms like “white power,” but also “#blacklives matter,” a reference to nationwide protests against police brutality that were gaining momentum in 2015.
The search led him to Johnson’s Twitter profile, which contained “images that he believed were threatening to law enforcement,” such as an image of a police figure in the crosshairs of a rifle scope, the suit says.
That image was the band logo of the rap group Public Enemy, as an independent investigation later confirmed, which Johnson had tweeted on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January 2015 captioned with a lyric from the group’s song, “Countdown to Armageddon.”
Williams reported what he had found to a superior, according to the suit, who told him to write a memo that reached Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. Six weeks later, after Rosenblum received letters from several organizations demanding an investigation, Williams was put on administrative leave. He states in the suit that one of the letters came from the Urban League of Portland, whoseCEO Nkenge Harmon Johnson is married to Erious Johnson.
That day, the suit says, Rosenblum “retained an employment lawyer to conduct an outside investigation into Plaintiff’s trial use of the software.” When the investigation’s findings were completed in April 2016, Williams was fired, he says in the suit.
Williams alleges in the lawsuit that he “reasonably believed his disclosures were evidence of violations of law and/or mismanagement,” and thus were protected whistleblower activities.
Johnson had sued Rosenblum and several other Justice Department officials in October 2016, saying that social media posts were searched without his knowledge, and settled for $205,000 the next year. He was required to leave his job as part of the settlement and no longer works at the Justice Department.
— Diana Kruzman; email@example.com; 503-221-5394; @DKruzman