A confrontation between University of Oregon adjunct law professor James Olmsted and student activists ended Thursday with Olmsted’s arrest and subsequent removal from the campus, said Julie Brown, director of media relations.
Several students videotaped Olmsted of Eugene, Oregon, as he shoved one student and aggressively took a cell phone from another.
The incident occurred at the Erb Memorial Union, near 13th Avenue and University Street, as members of the group Students Against Imperialism held a political performance by setting up a mock border checkpoint.
After inquiring about the purpose of the performance, Olmsted grew irate and began harassing students.
“Indians keep slaves too. Look at your sophisticated indigenous people—Mayans, Toltecs, Incans—they all kept slaves. They all fucking tortured and sacrificed institutionally… If you want this country back start a fucking war and take it back… Instead of just being pussies and talking, do something," Olmsted said to the students. "To make something happen you need lots of people that are doing action… like when Native Americans took over Alcatraz—very, very brave. This is nice but it's very small."
University police have charged Olmsted, 58, with second-degree theft and two counts of physical harassment. He also was served with a letter forbidding his return to the campus, according to a police statement.
“We were very disappointed with [Mr. Olmsted’s] interaction with our students,” Brown said. “[His] teaching responsibilities have been reassigned to other members of the faculty.”
Brown added that Olmsted is “not teaching now or in the foreseeable future.”
Diana Salazar, a junior who was a part of the mock border checkpoint, said she could tell Olmsted wasn’t there to engage in civil dialogue. Salazar said that after a few minutes she noticed he wasn’t “just your typical person.”
“At first I was surprised when he threw his helmet down,” she said. “That did throw me off.”
Salazar said she was even more surprised when she found out he was an adjunct professor with the university.
“We did not know until the very, very end,” she said. “We were all really shocked, but for me it was very ironic. You’d think that a law instructor would know that you’re not supposed to touch students.”
Olmsted, whose "experience includes representing both major luxury golf and ski resort developers and public interest advocacy groups," according to his works.bepress.com profile, is licensed to practice in four states and had previously taught a course in Land Trust and Conservation Easement Law at the University of Oregon.
Olmsted has also authored several academic essays regarding Native American land trust. In 2011, he wrote one titled, "The Invisible Forest: Conservation Easement Databases and the End of the Clandestine Conservation of Natural Lands," published by Duke University, which briefly discussed Native American conservation easements.
Salazar is not surprised that "this kind of hidden racism exists" on campus. She added that the University of Oregon as well as the City of Eugene "has a deep, deep history in racism."
“They want to erase and forget it,” she said. “There have been a lot of people trying to support [Olmsted], which goes to show you how people think of him here.”
She said that she and the Students Against Imperialism will take this opportunity to address the racial tensions she says are rampant at the university.
“There has been a history of cultural incompetency from people here, but it’s been isolated and now getting attention,” she said. “I think that we’re in the position where we can strategically ask, ‘What are the next steps to move forward and have the conversations that need to happen?’”
According to the Daily Emerald, Olmsted’s attorney, Mike Arnold, said taping the confrontation may have violated state law, which says the subjects of audio recordings must be notified. An exception has been made for unconcealed devices in public places, which may be what the many cell phones used to record Olmstead fall under.
Salazar believes the students did exactly what they should have done by filming Olmsted’s tirade.
“I feel like we did the right thing, exposing what he had done, and that it was not acceptable,” she said. “We’re definitely not in a post racial society. All those forms of oppression still exist. It’s still something that is experienced here in campus life.”
Olmsted would not comment on the incident and said all questions should be addressed to his attorney.