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Organization representing Josie Stanfield sends letter to police chief, mayor, city attorney seeking formal retraction

The organizer of a Black Lives Matter protest in Prineville in late May is demanding a retraction regarding a video posted to the Prineville Police Department Facebook page last weekend.

In the video, Police Chief Dale Cummins refuted claims made by local activist Josie Stanfield in a video she posted Friday, shortly after meeting with Cummins and fellow activist and protest organizer Teirra Bilbruck.

Cummins said that Stanfield lied in her video or twisted around what was said in the roughly two-hour conversation. He said that he had thought that the meeting went well and that even though they didn't always agree on everything, it was OK because they could sit at a table and be civil and talk about the issues at hand.

He said that he fielded questions asked about how the local agency does police work, and he answered those the best that he could. But toward the end of the meeting, he said Stanfield asked him if he would take a knee.

"I told her I would not, that because of all of the different things that are going on right now, that the message isn't strictly about civil rights." he said. "So, I was concerned that people could misconstrue that type of behavior condoning some of the other things that have been going on that quite frankly I am not in agreement with. I think we need to have civil conversations and work toward solutions."

Cummins said that Stanfield was upset with his response and when the meeting concluded, Bilbruck shook hands with him, but Stanfield would not.

Cummins did not reference any specific parts of Stanfield's video, but addressed the overall way in which she portrayed what he said during their meeting.

"I don't mind being judged for my opinions, but I do mind when I am being judged by opinions I don't have," he said, "and when I am misrepresented for the purposes of escalating an issue or calling for my resignation or any of those types of things, it's offensive to me when someone will completely misrepresent a meeting that I had."

Bilbruck appeared in the police department video with Cummins after reportedly reaching out to him to apologize for how Stanfield's video portrayed the meeting. She was asked by Cummins about her takeaway from the Friday meeting. Specifically, she was asked if what Stanfield said was true.

"She didn't tell the truth. The conversation that we held and the things that she said that you said, you didn't say those things. We had a good conversation," Bilbruck said in the police department video. "There were points of it where we disagreed. We are going to disagree on some things. That's why we have conversations."

On Wednesday, the Oregon Justice Resource Center announced that it is representing Stanfield and that she is demanding a formal retraction. Oregon Justice Resource Center was founded in 2011 with the goal "to promote civil rights and improve legal representation for communities that have often been underserved in the past."

"I'm disgusted by how people have treated me since I decided to declare proudly and publicly that black lives matter," Stanfield said according to the organization's news release. "This has been a terrifying time for me and my family. We've had to leave our home. I'm having a hard time sleeping because of the stress I'm under. For me, it's a mixture of fear of what might happen and anger at people thinking they have a right to try to silence my voice."

Juan Chavez, Oregon Justice Resource Center attorney, added that "by posting this defamatory video, the City of Prineville Police Department has worsened the threats and harassment directed at my client. The city has put Josie Stanfield's safety at risk by its actions. It is essential that the city retracts and corrects the false statements it has made as soon as possible."

In a letter sent by Chavez to Cummins, Prineville Mayor Steve Uffelman and City Attorney Jered Reid, he called the statements that Stanfield lied about the meeting "a falsehood" and added that the city "cannot support this statement made in its Facebook post with substantive facts that refute Ms. Stanfield's retelling of the events on June 12, 2020."

Cummins acknowledged in the police department video that the meeting was not recorded in an effort to let all parties speak freely.

Chavez said that failure to make a formal retraction "will not only result in continued unwanted threats against Ms. Stanfield's life, and black people in the region generally, but could incur further legal damages against you."

The organization is demanding that a correction and retraction state that the "defamatory statements previously made are not factually supported" and express regret of its original publication.

"Because your initial statement was both published on the website and later rebroadcasted by national news outlets who republished this claim without criticism, you must publish this correction, retraction and statement of regret to as broad of an audience as whom reasonably received this falsehood," Chavez wrote. "You must complete your retraction and publication of regret in no more than two weeks after receipt of this demand. If no retraction is made, Ms. Stanfield can and will exercise all available legal remedies at her disposal."

City Attorney Reid said that city officials have no comment at this time.

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