OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A Longshore union filed a federal lawsuit against local authorities Thursday, accusing them of using brutal tactics while arresting members for non-violent misdemeanors.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union said in the civil rights complaint that authorities have engaged in a campaign to harass and intimidate the union. The lawsuit accuses officials of "excessive and unwarranted brutal arrest procedures" and seeks to deter such conduct.
"Longshore workers and their supporters are no longer free to move about their hometown without fear of being ambushed in front of children and families by an overzealous, out-of-control Police Chief and Sheriff," said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath in a statement. "This blatant abuse of authority has to stop."
The suit names Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson, Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha as well as the county and city.
Grover Laseke, a spokesman for the sheriff, declined to comment on the specific allegations in the case because officials haven't had a chance to see it. But he said authorities believe officers have acted professional and have done their job the way it needs to be done.
"We feel that any allegations of abuse or excessive force are not accurate," Laseke said.
The Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office estimates that it has made more than 200 arrests in recent months over a labor dispute at a Port of Longview grain terminal. Protesters have blocked trains, and federal officials have accused the union of damaging property and making death threats.
Earlier this week, about a dozen were arrested — mostly women — for blocking a train. Law enforcement officers brought a massive force to help ensure passage of the train, using at least two tactical vehicles, canine units and about a dozen personnel in full riot gear.
A federal judge has found the union in contempt for its tactics and is now considering potential fines.
The ILWU believes its members have the right to work at the new $200 million terminal operated by EGT. The company has hired another firm that is staffing the site with workers from a different union, Oregon-based Operating Engineers Local 701.
Mike Baker can be reached at http://twitter.com/MikeBakerAP