City Government, Cottage Grove, Public Safety

Cottage Grove city, police sued; defendants cite immigration violations

COTTAGE GROVE – The City of Cottage Grove and its police department are facing a new wave of scrutiny after a lawsuit filed in the Lane Circuit Court on Feb. 21 claims the City used public resources to enforce federal immigration laws – a violation of Oregon law. 

The lawsuit, filed by the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) and Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC), alleges that the Cottage Grove Police Department violated the Sanctuary Promise Act.  

The Sanctuary Promise Act, which outlines provisions that block the information public entities can share with federal immigration officials, prohibits collecting information about citizenship status and prevents state law enforcement from jailing people for immigration agencies.

CALC has not yet responded to requests for comment.  

Within the court complaint, obtained by The Chronicle through a public records request, is the full departmental policy on immigration violations. The lawsuit specifically points to areas within the policy that violate state law, including: 

• Detecting and taking people into custody for immigration enforcement;

• Notifying immigration officials of people in local custody who police believe are violating federal immigration law;

• Holding people beyond their release so immigration officers have time to arrive at the jail;

• Giving immigration officials access to people it is detaining in restricted areas of the Cottage Grove Jail; and 

• Sharing confidential information with immigration officials about people in its custody, including release dates, contact information, and personal data.

“We want the City of Cottage Grove to follow the law,” said Jess Campbell, ROP director. “Everyone has the right to live their lives with safety and dignity in Oregon.”

The lawsuit ultimately seeks a court injunction to stop the city and its police from continuing to implement policies that target immigrants. 

While the jail was closed last month due to staffing shortages, the suit alleges that police have been using these strategies since August 2022, prior to its closure. 

In August, Jeff Groth was appointed the interim police chief after investigations began into the conduct of former police chief Scott Shepard and captain Conrad Gagner. 

Groth and Richard Meyers, city manager, declined comment. “We don’t comment on pending litigation,” both told The Chronicle. 

Campbell said that community members are “terrified that routine traffic stops can put them on a fast track to deportation in our town.”

She said that these practices ultimately make the community less safe. 

“When local police don’t follow the law and collaborate with federal immigration enforcement, it breaks community trust, making it less likely that people will call for help when needed,” Campbell said.

Oregon has long been at the forefront of drawing a line between public resources used to enforce the state’s criminal laws and federal immigration enforcement. Across the country they’re known as sanctuary laws, or disentanglement statutes.

The state has one of the oldest sanctuary laws in the country, which lawmakers first passed in 1987 and which has served as a model for others. “Oregonians have overwhelmingly supported our state’s sanctuary laws that separate local, county, and state police from federal immigration enforcement for more than 30 years,” Campbell said. “Local law enforcement agencies should be focusing their resources on local priorities, not supporting a multi-billion-dollar federal agency.”

Since then, voters rejected a ballot measure to repeal the law and the Legislature has passed measures that strengthen and clarify it, most recently in 2021 with House Bill 3265, known as the Sanctuary Promise Act. 

“Oregonians have affirmed over and over and over again that we want our sanctuary law upheld and we want local law enforcement to be focusing their resources on local priorities, not supporting federal immigration enforcement,” Campbell said.

According to the Sanctuary Promise Act, both individuals and law enforcement agencies who violate the OSPA may face civil penalties up to $5,000 or criminal charges. If the violation involves criminal activity, such as fraud or identity theft, the individual may also face criminal charges. Law enforcement agencies that violate the OSPA can also face consequences, including loss of state funding. 

Correction: In the initial reporting of this article, which was published online, it was misreported that the defendants cited 400 immigration law violations. The Chronicle regrets this error and strives for accuracy.