Dispute Over Policeman’s Handling of Skeleton-Noose Decoration Sparks Lawsuit

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October 6, 2021

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(SPRINGFIELD, Ore.) — A Black woman is suing a white Springfield police officer for violating her constitutional rights by challenging her concerns over a neighbor’s decorative skeleton, hung from a noose in his yard.

The complaint says Ashley Carr and her friend, Kinaya Huag, who is also Black, were parked outside Carr’s home on July 28, 2020. As the women looked at the skeleton in neighbor David Harbick’s house, Springfield police officer Joseph Burke approached them. He questioned if they were in the right neighborhood, and if they were “part of that mob movement,” according to Carr’s attorney Brian Michaels, who spoke at a press conference announcing the suit on September 23.

Both Carr and Haug are in Black Unity, a social justice group that became active after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

After Carr and Haug told Burke that they were offended by the skeleton, he phoned Harbrick, who is also white, in the presence of the women to warn him that the two wanted to “cancel” him over the decorations.

Michaels says this gives white America a glimpse on how police treat Black people.

“(Burke) bonds with the noose, he bonds with the noose hanger,” Michaels said at the press conference. “And he dismisses my client and her friend as ‘thugs’ belonging to a mob.”

The complaint says Harbrick’s skeleton display appeared around July 23, 2020. Carr previously expressed discomfort at his year-long Halloween decorations, but the noose was particularly distressing given the history of African Americans being lynched by mobs and left hanging by ropes.

Harbrick told The Click that the decoration was from a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed party, and there was no racially-motivated purpose behind it, nor an intent to intimidate anyone. He removed the noose shortly after talking to Burke.

Carr left her home on July 30, 2020, and has not returned since. She said she feared for her safety and that of her two children. She spent several nights in a hotel, but Michaels would not disclose how many nor her current accommodations.

Michaels said Burke singled out his client due to her race, and his detainment violated her constitutional rights, including her right to freedom of speech, freedom to associate, and freedom to right to privacy. The complaint says Carr has been under psychiatric care following the incident. Additionally, Carr’s departure from her residence caused her to break a lease agreement and lose her deposit. She has requested a jury trial and damages up to $250,000 for hotel costs and legal expenses.

“As a result of said intentional conduct, plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages against defendant Burke in an amount sufficient to punish him and to deter others from like conduct,” the complaint added.

The City of Springfield declined comment on the suit. Last March, the Civil Liberties Defense Center filed suit against SPD officers, accusing them of violating protesters’ civil rights at a July 29, 2020 march called “The Noose is a Nuisance,” held in support of Carr. “There’s an issue with trust in our institutions and our community,” said Eric Richardson, executive director of the Eugene-Springfield NAACP. “And it all has to do with this underlying element of racism. Of exclusion. Of these symbols.”

 

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