No arrests after city official threatened at council meeting

By Joe Siess

H&N Staff Reporter

{/child_byline}

As residents made their way into city hall for a meeting focused on addressing racism and increasing equity Monday night in Klamath Falls, a man wielding a large rock threatened a city employee.

Eric Osterberg, assistant to the city manager of Klamath Falls and staff lead for the Klamath Falls equity task force, was prepared to deliver the task force’s final report to the Klamath Falls city council. But before the meeting could start, things turned chaotic.

As Osterberg sat down in the chambers, a man sat next to him holding a rock about the size of his hand.

Osterberg, sensing that something was off, decided to say hello in an effort to deescalate the situation. But the man just grew more agitated, Osterberg said.

“I could tell something was bugging him,” Osterberg said.

Osterberg said the man told him: “Oh, so you think we are all racist? You think you are the second coming of Christ?”

Then, Osterberg said, the man accused him of spreading HIV and AIDS, and called him “blasphemous.” Osterberg is a gay Black man.

“You are a sinner and you need to be stoned. That is why I brought this stone,” Osterberg said the man told him.

The man was then escorted out of the building by Klamath Falls police chief Robert Dentinger, who was in the room when the incident happened.

“I’m not sure if he was arrested or just asked to go home,” Osterberg said. “I would hope that he was arrested since he made a direct threat to me, and I think it would be pretty bad if he was allowed to just leave.”

According to Dentinger, the suspect was not arrested at the council meeting.

“As of (Monday) night there was not enough information to arrest him,” Dentinger said. “But as things change, we are going to have to talk to him.”

Dentinger said he realized the man needed to be removed from city hall after he heard him making comments under his breath. Another officer was supposed to be on duty at the meeting, but Dentinger said he could not locate the officer, so decided to remove the man himself.

Dentinger said that when he approached the man and asked him to leave, the man was compliant. Once outside, the man walked away, Dentinger said.

Dentiger added that KFPD is aware of the man’s identity and is currently working to get in touch with him.

Carol Westfall, mayor of Klamath Falls, said the incident was disturbing and disappointing for city government.

“It basically shows us what is out there, and our work towards equity and doing away with this kind of conflict is what we are working towards,” Westfall said. “It’s unfortunate, but we do have freedom of speech and people on the internet are saying all sorts of stuff ... I think it’s just unfortunate but we definitely need to educate people and keep moving forward.”

Osterberg said he was anticipating pushback against the task force’s final report, but he did not expect that level of hatred.

“I was very surprised to see that there was going to be a direct threat of violence against me personally. I did not anticipate that,” he said. “I was frankly more concerned for the safety of the task force members, and we talked about and kind of strategized how we were going to keep ourselves safe coming into the meeting.”

Osterberg said he was shaken by the incident, but the council meeting did move forward.

“I felt like I didn’t do my presentation tonight justice because I was so frazzled and put on edge by what had happened right before,” he said. “I think this proves that there is such a violent reaction to the idea that there is even racism in the community. That people are being threatened by violence in order to try and silence them. And I think that is pretty damning of the community.”

During the work session, Osterberg discussed how the task force has been busy gathering information in order to define the problem of inequity in Klamath Falls and propose solutions.

As part of the process of addressing systemic racism and the economic impacts it has caused, the task force interviewed the Klamath Falls Police Department, the Klamath Falls Chamber of Commerce and the Klamath Tribes, Osterberg said at the meeting.

Some of the task force’s demands from the city council include a statement that acknowledges anti-indigenous racism has exacerbated the local water conflict; renaming of Kit Carson Park and Dead Indian Memorial Road; funding and hosting of a cultural center in Klamath Falls to celebrate the town’s diversity; provide anti-racism training and indigenous history education for all city employees; and hiring a full-time equity liaison at the city.

Osterberg will soon leave Klamath Falls to take over the city manager role in Ferguson, Missouri.

— Reporter Joe Siess can be reached at (541) 885-4481 or jsiess@heraldandnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @jomsiess