Environmentalists say free speech rights were violated

The Associated Press
Wednesday September 05, 2001

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Claiming their civil rights were violated by a policeman warning of violence over shutting off water to farmers, two environmentalists filed claims Tuesday against the city for $100,000 each. 

Because Lt. Jack Redfield was in uniform and backed by other police officers when he mentioned Andy Kerr and Wendell Wood by name, it appeared he had the backing of the city when he made the July 25 speech, attorney Gary K. Kahn wrote in a letter to the city. 

“In the course of my actions as an environmentalist, I have received death threats on a regular basis, but never by someone in a police officer’s uniform,” Kerr said. 

Wood is a field representative of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, which has been working on behalf of fish and wildlife in the Klamath Basin. Kerr is a consultant working with ONRC to develop support for a federal buyout of basin farmers to reduce water demand. 

If the claim is not resolved satisfactorily, a lawsuit may be filed, Kerr said. Any money from the claim would be given to Indian and commercial fishermen hurt by diversion of water from the Klamath River to irrigate farms on the Klamath Project. 

“The city needs to be accountable for actions of its employees. (Redfield) was on city time, in a city uniform and escorted by other city employees,” Kerr said. 

City Attorney Rick Whitlock said the city will refer the claim to its insurance carrier. 

Faced with a severe drought, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shut off water to most of the Klamath Project irrigation system last April to meet water levels set by federal biologists in Upper Klamath Lake for endangered suckers and flows down the Klamath River for threatened coho salmon. 

Redfield and a retinue of Klamath Falls police officers were delivering a beef raised on Redfield’s ranch to a barbecue celebrating a limited release of water to farmers on the Klamath Project irrigation system when he put on a white cowboy hat and read his speech. 

“It won’t take much from Andy Kerr or Wendell Wood or their like to spark an extremely violent response,” Redfield said in the speech. “I am talking about rioting, homicides, destruction of property like dams that hold the precious water from the agricultural community.” 

Police officers with Redfield said they had not been aware he intended to make the speech. Redfield was put on paid administrative leave until last week, when he returned to duty. 

Though confrontations have been tense at times between protesters and federal police guarding headgates controlling releases from Upper Klamath Lake, there have been no arrests directly related to the irrigation situation.