Oregon settles suits with civil rights director, ex-Kitzhaber aide

The Oregon Department of Justice has agreed to pay $205,000 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by Erious Johnson Jr., the agency’s top civil rights lawyer, who alleged racial profiling by his state co-workers.

Johnson sued boss Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and other agency employees last year after it was revealed he had been the target of racially motivated surveillance from within the agency.

Records also show the state agreed to pay $70,000 to settle a suit brought by Nkenge Harmon Johnson, who is married to Erious Johnson. She alleged she was improperly pushed out of her job as a spokeswoman for then-Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Under the settlements, Kitzhaber, Rosenblum and other defendants will not have to admit fault. Johnson also signed paperwork agreeing not to seek work with the state for five years.

Harmon Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive, attorney Beth Creighton, who represented Johnson, criticized Rosenblum’s agency for its handling of civil rights issues and the lawsuit.

“The Oregon Department of Justice, the arm of the state government charged with protecting our civil rights, violated the rights of its own civil rights director, Erious Johnson,” Creighton said. “To make matters worse, DOJ utilized its considerable power and resources to compound the violation with its denial and its dogged defense of its status quo, at no small cost to the taxpayers.

“Erious Johnson filed this lawsuit solely to fight that power and its abuse in order to hold DOJ accountable for this breach of trust.”

In a statement released to The Oregonian/OregonLive through her spokeswoman, Rosenblum said she is sad to see Johnson leave the agency.

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

“I will miss his wise counsel as our Civil Rights Director, but I’m proud of the work we achieved…

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