An investigator for the Oregon Department of Justice is getting his job back after a state arbitrator ruled the agency was wrong to fire him.
It all started when Jim Williams started searching social media for posts using hashtags associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Williams interpreted some of the posts as a possible threat to police and opened a file one of the people who had used the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
That person was Erious Johnson, who happens to be the top civil rights attorney at the Oregon Department of Justice. He’s also one of the few African-American attorneys in the department.
After an investigation, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum fired Williams, saying he engaged in racial profiling.
Now, an arbitrator has ruled the agency was wrong to let Williams go and ordered him reinstated with back pay.
Arbitrator David Blair, who is a Sherwood-based attorney, wrote in his ruling that the Oregon Department of Justice “exacted the harshest penalty possible against a seven-year veteran of the department with a spotless record” and that “this discipline appears to have been both inappropriate, unnecessary and clearly excessive.”
Blair writes that the agency could instead have offered additional training to Williams and other employees to help them better understand the agency’s expectations. Blair also ordered the agency to scrub any reference to the matter from Williams’ personnel file.
In a statement, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she does not agree with the ruling.
“I am disappointed in the arbitrator’s decision and continue to feel strongly that I made the right decision to terminate Mr. Williams’ employment as a criminal investigator at the Oregon Department of Justice,” said Rosenblum.
A spokeswoman for Rosenblum said she would not comment further, citing two pending civil lawsuits filed against the agency: one by Williams and the other by Johnson.
Johnson’s attorney, Beth Creighton, said the arbitrator’s ruling “establishes what we knew all along.”
“This was not an isolated investigator going rogue,” Creighton said, “but a concerted effort by DOJ management to target Erious Johnson and cover it up.”
Creighton added that Johnson took no pleasure in seeing his colleague fired.
“For the record, Mr. Johnson was never asked if he wanted Williams terminated and in fact did not want to see him terminated,” she said. “Hopefully the training suggested by the arbitrator will be put into place so this type of violation never happens again.”