Discrimination lawsuit against Hillsboro moves to federal court
Two Hillsboro police officers and the city government violated an elderly Black resident's civil rights by conducting a biased investigation that led to her eviction, a recently amended complaint alleges.
The city is fighting the civil suit, which was moved to federal court in January after the plaintiff added complaints that the police officers and the city violated her 14th Amendment rights.
On March 8, Hillsboro's attorneys filed their second motion to dismiss the case, saying the complaint fails to show how the officers and the city violated state and federal laws.
Jean Coppedge is seeking $600,000 in damages for the alleged civil rights violations as well as alleged race and disability discrimination and negligence, according to the complaint, which was originally filed last May in the Washington County Circuit Court.
Coppedge called the Hillsboro Police Department in May 2019 after a neighbor and his adult daughter allegedly harassed and assaulted her outside her home.
The neighbors allegedly called her racial slurs before pushing her, grabbing her walking stick and throwing it into the street.
The altercation began after Coppedge's neighbor allowed his dog to urinate on her lawn, according to the complaint, something Coppedge previously asked him not to do.
When Coppedge asked the neighbors to leave, one neighbor called her the n-word and multiple other expletives, the complaint says.
After the incident, Coppedge called a non-emergency police line to report it.
According to Coppedge's complaint, the officer who responded, James Schoeffler, didn't take Coppedge's accusations of assault seriously. He said he had responded to disputes between Coppedge and her neighbors at a previous residence, according to the complaint.
Schoeffler and another officer, Sgt. Clint Chrz, who responded later, "questioned her credibility and mental health; biased potential witnesses and suspects by suggesting to them that she was mentally ill; intentionally omitted admissions and corroborating statements, including from the very individuals whom Ms. Coppedge identified as her assailants; and advised her neighbors on how to obtain her eviction through use of police reports," the complaint says.
Coppedge's attorneys amended the complaint to include a body camera-recorded conversation between Chrz and Coppedge's neighbors, who had been interviewed as part of the investigation but were not involved in the alleged harassment and assault.
The conversation allegedly shows how the officers contributed to her eviction by advising neighbors how to obtain a police report about Coppedge, according to the complaint.
"You can say, I have, you know, this address. And you know, Officer Schoeffler will give you her last name, I'm make sure he gives you that, OK. And say, hey, I have this address, this name — I want all the police reports with those," Chrz told Coppedge's neighbors, the complaint says.
"I'm going to give those to my attorney," the neighbor said.
"Perfect. Get those," Chrz replied.
Coppedge's subsequent eviction, which was allegedly a result of the officers' police report, is the focus of her assertions that the officers and the city violated her 14th Amendment rights.
The 14th Amendment includes the Due Process Clause, which prohibits governments from depriving someone of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
After Hillsboro attorneys filed their first motion to dismiss the case last October, Coppedge's attorneys decided to add the 14th Amendment complaints, said J. Ashlee Albies, Coppedge's attorney.
"We really wanted to express the importance of the rights that were involved and invoked in this case," Albies said. "It's not right that she lost her housing."
The altercation between Coppedge and her neighbors shows how racism often plays out in predominantly white communities, and how police response can lead to a lack of accountability for people's racist actions, Albies said.
"We felt like it was important to highlight one of these examples," she said.
Hillsboro's attorneys say the plaintiff hasn't shown how the officers' actions violated the law.
Among the arguments they raise in asking a federal judge to dismiss the suit is the assertion that state and federal laws do not entitle people to a police investigation, and therefore it isn't a service she can be unlawfully deprived of based on her race, age or disability.
The city's attorneys also say the plaintiff has failed to show that the officers intended to cause Coppedge harm, according to motions to dismiss.
In response to a request for comment, Hillsboro city spokesman Patrick Preston said in a statement, "Racial equity is a citywide priority, and our Equity Statement provides all staff the vision and expectation to apply a racial equity lens in the delivery of public services. To the extent we can adequately convey it through words, the people who make up the City of Hillsboro Police Department care greatly about equitably serving all community members."
Albies said she intends to oppose Hillsboro's recent motion to dismiss the case.
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