|OSP Senior Trooper Behaving
For the last fifteen years, independent miner, Eric West of Grants Pass, Oregon has spent his free time in the summers prospecting at Ennis Riffle on the Rogue River.
“I always look forward to spending my one week vacation camping down there each year“ says West, who works as an auto parts salesman six days a week.
The gravel bar at Ennis Riffle used to be a small hydraulic gold mine, notes local mining historian Kerby Jackson, who adds that the site was named for Frank Ennis, who was a prominent gold miner in the area during the late 19th century.
Even today this bend in the river is known for carrying much gold.
“There are several lines of gold at Ennis Riffle,” adds West, who has a reputation among local miners for knowing this small section of the river better than just about anyone around. “You can actually see the gold in the spongey looking tan clay down there and you can find a lot more in the harder layer of clay under that one. Most of the gold is coated in mercury on one side because there is a ledge of cinnabar out there in the river. You can roll over a boulder and you see it lying down there. It's silver with mercury on top and gold on the bottom. So I take a lot of mercury out of the river, along with a lot of fishing weights and other types of junk.”
But West's latest outing to Ennis Riffle was cut short by an unexpected interruption.
“I'd found this nice crack in the bedrock and was starting to clean it out. I had just gotten one nugget that was big enough that I could hear it go into my machine, when someone told me that the State Police were wanting me to shut my machine down and come talk to them,” West recalled.
When he got to the bank, West was confronted by Senior Trooper Jeff Thompson of the Oregon State Police, who addressed him by name.
Thompson told West that it was against Oregon State Law for him to mine at Ennis Riffle and that the State of Oregon requires that he purchase a permit.
“I told him that I don't need a permit,” West recalled. “I have a right to be on the river and I have a right to prospect. We all do,” he said, referring to the 1872 Mining Act which grants a right to all Americans to search for valuable minerals on lands managed by the United States.
Thompson promptly issued West with a citation for 2nd degree water pollution because he refuses to buy a permit from the State of Oregon. The citation carries a maximum penalty of $25,000 in fines and up to a year in jail.
“I intend to fight this,” West said, adding that his rights were violated.
Jackson, who is a past Chairman of Jefferson Mining District, an author and a mining rights advocate, agrees.
“All Americans have a right to prospect for valuable minerals via a public grant from Congress,” he says, adding that the right is one protected by the Contract Clause of the United Constitution.
“This right is considered higher than something allowed by a mere license like hunting or fishing and Eric West doesn't need a permit to prospect for minerals anymore than he needs a permit to enjoy his due process rights. This Mining Law is an Act of Congress that disposed of the minerals and the lands in which they are found to the people under the sole condition that they take the initiative to locate and extract the minerals under the provisions outlined in the 1866, 1870 and 1872 Acts. Under its Admissions Act, the State of Oregon and its agents are expressly forbidden to interfere with any rules set down by Congress pertaining to the disposal of this mineral estate, as well as other lands. As far as I'm concerned, Jeff Thompson not only violated Eric West's rights, but he also did so knowingly. That's a felony under 18 USC 242, Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law, and he should be stripped of his badge and sent to federal prison,” Jackson said.
The fact is, this was not West's first run-in with Jeff Thompson.
On September 10th, 2011, Thompson cited West for 2nd degree water pollution for prospecting at Ennis Riffle without a permit. Much of the incident, which lasted nearly two hours, was captured on video by Jackson.
“A couple of us were down there prospecting that day and we were about 100 feet or so downstream of Eric,“ Jackson recalls. “Since we'd ran out of fuel and the day was wearing on, we pulled our machine out and did a clean up to see how things looked. We did pretty well. There was a lot of gold in our pan. I sent my partner up to his truck for something and when he came back he told me that the State Police were up there. Eric was still in the water and since he was on his own, I made a bee-line up there with the camera rolling.”
Jackson says that when he approached the area, he saw three State Police trucks parked on the river bar. “When I saw that, I thought 'That's a lot of resources to throw at someone for digging a little hole in the middle of the river.' I knew then that this was intended to be a show of force against the miners and that they would be looking to make an example of someone to create a chilling effect.”
In the September 2011 video, Trooper Thompson displays erratic and threatening behavior within mere moments of making contact with the group of miners, verbally threatening to “throw to the ground and arrest” everyone present.
“If you want my opinion,” Jackson said, “Thompson is a very unstable individual. He walked around with his hand on his gun most of the time and seemed to be trying to escalate the situation. The two guys with him almost seemed to be embarrassed and clearly did not want to be there. As time went on, one of them even wandered off, while the other kept saying 'I don't know anything about this. I was just doing patrol'.”
“Eric and I went back and forth over what the mining law says with Thompson, as well as what Eric's rights were. Thompson didn't know squat and did not want to look at any of the laws we had in our possession. We also demanded that he call Sheriff Gil Gilbertson down there, reminding him that Gilbertson's policy was that not even Oregon State Police were not to contact any miners without him being present. This demand was ignored, even though Ennis Riffle is county property and Thompson had no authority there, let alone on the river. It soon became clear that Thompson had been instructed to make an example out of any miner that he came across. In fact, I was aware of an internal memo between Oregon DEQ and BLM that specifically instructed Thompson to hunt the miners down. When I mentioned that and suggested that he was involved in a conspiracy to deprive miners of their granted rights, Thompson turned white and said 'Look guys, I'm just following orders and doing my job'.”
“I seem to recall that a bunch of people hung at Nuremberg used that same excuse to justify their crimes too,” Jackson said.
Ultimately, when Eric West went to the court to file a set aside based on a due process rights violation in the citation, he discovered that Thompson had not filed the citation.
“I still made it a
point to appear for the court date in October,” West recalled later. “Thompson
never did turn the ticket in, so I was excused by the clerk after I insisted
that she make a record that I had appeared.”
In the Spring of 2012, Curtis Bunch, Jefferson Mining District's Co-ordination Officer to the State of Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality, reported that multiple records request to Oregon State Police regarding West's September 2011 citation were not only denied, but that his requests to obtain insight into Thompson's training pertaining to pollution and mining enforcement were met with obstructive behavior despite multiple attempts to obtain the records. He also received a letter from the Oregon State Police informing him that the September 2011 incident was part of “an active investigation” despite the fact that Thompson, in violation of state law and his duty, had failed to file the citation with the court.
“Clearly, they are
trying to protect Thompson,” Bunch remarked.
Regarding his most recent citation, West said that Thompson intimated that he had “screwed up on the dates” on the 2011 citation and wouldn't “make the same mistake this time”. He also bragged to West that he had recently helped cite a miner on Grave Creek, probably referring to the recent citation of local miner Ross Painter who was confronted by two employees of Oregon State Police who trespassed on his property on Upper Grave Creek and then issued a citation after being told they were ejected from his property. On August 8th, 2012, Painter appeared in court, only to discover that like West's previous ticket, the citation against him had not been filed.
“I don't think there's any doubt that the State of Oregon is actively working to deprive miners of their rights and property and that that they are instructing people like Jeff Thompson to agressively hunt miners down,” Jackson observed. "Of course, the miners aren't the only ones, as the recent ridiculous rain water case over in Jackson County illustrates. Everyone with property or that desires to self sustain is a potential target, but we miners are certainly the priority target of their agenda.When you consider that it was really mining that built this state in the early years, the whole thing is rather insulting to our ancestors."
At a recent meeting of the South West Oregon Mining Association, West reported that near the beginning of August, Thompson called him at his place of employment while he was at work.
“He told me that he did not want a big deal made out of this and said that if I did not talk about the citation and would buy a $25 permit from the state, that the judge would not impose any fines or jail time on me”.
“They've still yet to prove that I need their permit, so I'm not going to do that,” West said.
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