PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – An editor for Oregon Public Broadcasting is suing the city of Medford, Jackson County, and a few members of the Medford Police Department. She says they broke her First and Fourth Amendment rights when they arrested her on September 22, 2020, for reporting on a sweep of a homeless camp in Medford.
At the time of the event, April Ehrlich was a reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Ehrlich filed the lawsuit on September 20, 2022. In it, she says that police officers violated her civil rights by getting in the way of her work as a journalist and searching her things without a warrant.
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The lawsuit says that Ehrlich was walking around Hawthorne Park in Medford on September 22, 2020, while reporting on the camp clearance. She was holding her audio recording equipment and had her press badge out.
Video from the Medford Police Department showed that when officers asked her to leave, she told them she was a reporter and that she was in a public park. The officer then told her she was breaking the law by being in the park after it had closed and that she had to leave.
In the video, when Ehrlich said “no,” the officer told her she was being arrested. “I am a reporter! I am a reporter! I’m just doing my job. I’m here to tell you about it. Put me down! Put me down! Let go. In the body cam video of the incident, Ehrlich can be heard saying, “This is crazy.”
Ehrlich was arrested and charged with trespassing, resisting arrest, and interfering with an officer. Later, the City of Medford dropped the charge of getting in the way of an officer. The trespassing charge was later dropped by the Medford Municipal Court, and the resisting arrest charge was then dropped by the city of Medford.
After the charges were dropped, Ehrlich filed the civil rights suit against Medford, the county, and the officers who were involved.
The lawsuit says that on September 21, 2020, at 8 a.m., Medford City Manager Brian Sjothun told the Medford Police Department to close Hawthorne Park for 48 hours to clean it up. This was four days before Ehrich was arrested. On the morning of September 22, 2020, Medford Police and Jackson County probation officers told campers.
volunteers, and other people that Hawthorne Park was closed, but they could stay for the rest of the morning. According to the lawsuit, authorities said that people could go into the park to help or take things out, but they could not go into the park to take pictures or videos of what was going on.
According to the lawsuit, journalists were not given a special deal. Instead, they were told to go to a certain place. The lawsuit says that this area was near a noisy overpass on Interstate 5 and a busy street at one end of the 20-acre park. This made it hard for them to see or hear what was going on in the park.
The lawsuit says that Ehrlich didn’t wait in the place where he was supposed to, but instead went into the park that morning. According to the lawsuit, when Ehrlich was being arrested, two officers each took one of her arms and forced it behind her back. The woman says that one of the officers then kicked at her feet. The lawsuit says that after Ehrlich was arrested, two police officers went through her things and took away her reporting gear.
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Ehrlich says that the city of Medford broke her First Amendment right to freedom of the press by making a rule that stopped her from watching what was going on in Hawthorne Park and writing about it. The lawsuit says that the “media staging area” didn’t let journalists watch and record government activity in Hawthorne Park.
She also says that the city and its police department failed to train, supervise, and control the officers who carried out a policy that led to her wrongful arrest. The lawsuit says that her Fourth Amendment rights were broken when her things were searched and taken.
Ehrlich and her lawyers from the firm Kafoury and McDougal want a jury trial and want the jury to decide on noneconomic damages and how much it will cost to pay for the lawyers’ fees. They also want the jury to think about giving the city and other defendants punitive damages to stop them from acting in the same way in the future.
A tree trimmer in Portland dies when a branch falls on him. “Medford police shouldn’t have arrested me for doing my job as a journalist,” Ehrlich said in a statement. “And the city of Medford shouldn’t have doubled down on that wrong by pursuing criminal charges for the last two years.”
I want to make sure that no journalist in Oregon or anywhere else has to go through something as stressful and traumatic as what I did.” In a statement from the City Attorney’s Office of Medford, the city said that 10 people were arrested in the park that day, including Ehrlich. The city said that it thought it was legal to temporarily close the park to everyone on September 22, 2020.
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In a statement, the city said, “Journalists do not have a special or unique right to go on property that has been closed to the public.” “Other journalists who were there on that day covered the park closing from outside the area that was closed. Fonseca was told about the closure area, and he was only arrested when he refused a legal order to leave it.
The city said it thinks that court cases that have already been decided will back up its right to close the park to the public and reporters. Jackson County’s top lawyer, Joel Benton, told KOIN 6 News on Wednesday that the lawsuit hasn’t been sent to the county yet, but that the county doesn’t talk about lawsuits that are still going on.
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