ILWU scores two legal victories in civil rights lawsuit against abuse by local government officials


ILWU Local 21 Vice President (in black sweatshirt), attempting to facilitate a peaceful orderly arrest outside the Cowlitz County Hall of Justice at 2 PM on Friday, September 16. The sheriff, Mark Nelson, ignored the offer, instead sending four law enforcement officers to pursue and arrest Whiteside two hours later in a church parking lot as he picked up his children from day care. Several children witnessed the arrest. (Photo by Dawn DesBrisay).

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) scored two victories today in its lawsuit against Cowlitz County, the City of Longview and their top law enforcement officials. The lawsuit, filed in September, challenges law enforcement’s campaign of intimidation and harassment against ILWU members and supporters in the wake of the union’s largely peaceful protests against multi-national grain conglomerate EGT in Longview, Washington. Rather than process misdemeanor arrests in a peaceful fashion as the union requested, law enforcement officials and agencies used excessive force and insisted on rounding up members in made-for-television-style scenes in front of their children and friends. ILWU Local 21 and EGT have since settled their differences and entered into a collective bargaining agreement on February 9. The lawsuit against local law enforcement agencies continues.

Today, the Hon. Ronald B. Leighton of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington denied requests from Cowlitz County and Sheriff Nelson to dismiss the case. Rejecting legal arguments from the Sheriff and County, Judge Leighton ruled that “the Union has adequately pled its causes of action against Mr. Nelson” and the facts described in the union’s complaint “are sufficient to state a claims for municipal liability” against Cowlitz County. In the same order, the judge granted the ILWU’s request to add Cowlitz County’s top prosecutor District Attorney Susan Baur and Deputy County Sherriff Charles Rosenzweig as defendants to the case, again rejecting the County’s arguments.

These victories follow closely on the heels of another ILWU legal victory just over a week ago. On April 6, the United States Magistrate Judge J. Richard Creatura of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington threw out the City of Longview’s request for sanctions against the ILWU.

“Today’s ruling means the court can hear important evidence showing that law enforcement and the Prosecuting Attorney’s office sided with the port and big business in the EGT dispute instead of defending the broader public interest,” said ILWU Coast Committeeman Leal Sundet.

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