Police probe alleged racism

By Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

The city and school district have issued statements denouncing racism and discrimination following a news report about an incident that allegedly took place during the Linn County Championships wrestling tournament held at Sweet Home High School on Jan. 7.

A Sweet Home Police log entry at 7:22 p.m. on Jan. 7 reads: “Caller reports during wrestling tournament, adult male grabbed son’s cowboy hat off his head aggressively. Officer contacted caller by phone. Report taken.”

Police Chief Jeff Lynn said his agency is looking into the matter because, he said, there were allegations that it is a bias-related incident “and we take that very seriously.” He said that because the complainant, Travis Freeman, 38, lives in Lebanon, the Lebanon Police are the lead agency in the investigation.

“We’re hoping to wrap it up as soon as possible,” Lynn said.

On Jan. 13 KEZI TV news aired an interview with Freeman and his son Darius, who competed in the tournament. Travis Freeman told a reporter he was “seeking an attorney to ask them about pursuing this” as a civil rights issue.

In a video included in the broadcast, Darius Freeman and other placewinners stand to receive their awards. A man approaches the group, speaks and extends his hand, Darius removes the hat and the man takes it and walks out of the camera view.

On Friday evening, Jan. 14, Colleen Henry of the Sweet Home School District issued a Remind announcement that the district is “conducting multiple investigations” regarding the incident.

She said “a news report indicates that a wrestlers from another high school was asked to remove his hat by a volunteer. In the news report, the boy’s parent raised the question of whether he was singled out for discriminatory treatment.”

The City of Sweet Home also issued a news release about 10 minutes previously stating that it was “disheartened to hear allegations of racist behavior by members of our community. We condemn any words, behaviors, or attitudes that provoke fear, shame, or hostility towards another person.”

It included statements from three City Council members.

Sweet Home Mayor Greg Mahler said: “I heard of the racist allegations in our community. While we will wait for the process to determine innocence or guilt, there is no place in our community for racist behavior. The city manager and I were contacted by each councilor expressing their frustration regarding any racist incidents in our community. I expect the council will make a strong statement against racism in our community during our next meeting.”

City Councilor Susan Coleman said: “As the only councilor who is also a parent of a SHSD student, it deeply saddens and horrifies me that this type of thinking exists. It in no way represents the rest of our city. We are a community who values our neighbors, so there is no place for dishonoring those who visit.”

City Councilor Angelita Sanchez said: “As a woman of color elected to the City Council, Sweet Home has no room for racism within our community. It will not be tolerated or accepted. It should have ended long ago, so it needs to end today.”