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Klamath Falls Official Says He Was Threatened During City Council Meeting

Klamath Falls City Hall building.
Ian Poellett
Creative Commons via Wikipedia
Klamath Falls City Hall building.

A Klamath Falls official representing the city’s new equity task force says he was threatened this week because of his race and sexuality. And he says he’s not the only non-white person in the area concerned for his safety.

On Monday, Eric Osterberg was about to present a report to the city council from the recently formed equity task force. Osterberg is a gay, Black man, and until recently was the assistant to the city manager. But before he could start, he says, a man sat next to him holding a large, fist-sized rock, accused him of being a sinner for being gay and “spreading HIV and AIDS” and threatened to “stone him.”

“I believe what this man tried to do was attempt to commit a hate crime,” Osterberg says. “There was a direct intent to harm me. He had a rock in his hand. He told me he was going to stone me because he perceived me as a sinner.”

The goals of the equity task force include making Klamath Falls more welcoming for marginalized groups.

According to the Klamath Falls Herald and News, the man left the meeting without consequences.

Klamath Falls police chief Rob Dentinger says the incident is under investigation and that it could potentially bring menacing or harassment charges. He says the investigation will be sent to the district attorney’s office to determine if it constitutes a hate crime.

The Klamath Falls mayor who was also at the council meeting did not respond to an interview request.

The first public Zoom meeting of the equity task force had to be shut down because they were flooded with people exposing themselves and making racial slurs, Osterberg says. He says such actions have had a chilling effect on other task force members publicly speaking out.

“They are reluctant to share their perspective because they’re worried about the very sort of retaliation that I experienced on Monday,” he says. “They’re worried that people are going to hurt them, show up at their house, harm their family members.”

Osterberg was recently hired to be the new city manager of Ferguson, Missouri. He says Klamath Falls should take the recommendations of the task force, including to hire a city employee to help deal with incidents of prejudice and bias in the community.

Other recommendations from the equity task force report to the City of Klamath Falls include acknowledging the role of racism and colonialism in the Klamath Basin’s ongoing water crisis, recognizing events like Pride Month and Indigenous People’s Day, advocating for renaming place-names such as Southern Oregon’s Dead Indian Memorial Road, and providing cultural awareness and anti-racism training for city employees.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.