Oregon Settles Lawsuit, Forces Out DOJ Civil Rights Attorney

By Chris Lehman (OPB)
Salem, Oregon Oct. 11, 2017 11:35 p.m.

The state of Oregon has reached settlements in a lawsuit filed against it by the lead civil rights attorney for the Oregon Department of Justice, as well as a separate lawsuit filed by the head of the Urban League of Portland.

Erious Johnson

Erious Johnson

Oregon Department of Justice

Erious Johnson filed suit in 2016 after it came to light that he had been the subject of a digital surveillance operation by one of his own colleagues at the Department of Justice.

Johnson, who is one of the only African-American attorneys at the agency, was targeted after he used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter. The investigator also interpreted posts by Johnson, related to the hip-hop group Public Enemy, as something potentially dangerous. That investigator, Jim Williams, was fired by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, but was awarded his job back in August by an arbitrator.

Johnson contended in his lawsuit that his civil rights were violated by the digital monitoring. He’ll receive $205,000 in the settlement agreement, which also stipulates he must step down from his job at the Department of Justice and will not seek employment by the state for five years.

The settlement doesn’t bar Johnson from seeking elected office, however.


Johnson responded to questions via his attorney, Beth Creighton.

“The result is what it is,” he said. “I wanted to move on.”

Regarding the loss of his job and the five-year ban on seeking future employment with the state, Johnson said:

“The separation of employment and five year prohibition of employment with the state were conditions the state required to settle this case. [The state] apparently believed I was a liability risk. I was made to be the bad guy.”

In a statement released by her spokeswoman, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum praised Johnson.

“Erious has been a part of the DOJ team for over three years, and we are sad to see him leave,” said Rosenblum. “It is both a personal loss and a loss for all of DOJ.”

In another high-profile lawsuit settled Wednesday, the state reached an agreement with Nkenge Harmon Johnson. She served as a spokesperson for former Gov. John Kitzhaber and is married to Erious Johnson.

Harmon Johnson alleged she was wrongly fired from her job in 2014 after raising ethical concerns about being asked to mingle campaign work with official state business, and about the role of Kitzhaber’s fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, in advising the governor.

Harmon Johnson settled with the state for $70,000. She's currently the President and CEO of the Urban League of Portland.