Friday, December 4, 2020
Dec. 4, 2020

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Medford presses charges against public radio reporter

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MEDFORD, Ore. — The city of Medford will press charges against a local reporter arrested last month during the eviction of a tent city in Hawthorne Park.

April Rosemary Fonseca, who reports for Jefferson Public Radio under the name April Ehrlich, was charged Tuesday in Medford Municipal Court with trespassing and resisting arrest in association with her Sept. 22 arrestat Hawthorne Park, according to Medford Deputy City Attorney Eric Mitton.

When reached by phone, Ehrlich deferred all comments to her attorney, Portland based criminal defense lawyer Stephen Houze.

Houze said his client will make her first court appearance at an arraignment scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday in Medford’s municipal court at city hall.

“We intend to enter a plea of not guilty and vigorously contest these charges,” Houze said.

Ehrlich is among nine people charged with trespassing and one of two charged with resisting arrest stemming from the Sept. 22 arrests, according to a release from the Medford city attorney’s office issued Tuesday evening. Medford police made 11 arrests that day.

“Following a thorough review of the evidence in each case, the City Attorney’s office filed criminal charges against those defendants where the relevant facts and applicable law warranted pursuing the charges,” the Medford release states.

Those charged with trespassing, according to the release and an earlier news report, include Sam Becker, who is a campaign manager for Oregon state representative candidate Alberto Enriquez, and Jesse Sharpe, who is a regional organizer with the Community Alliance for Tenants.

Lawyer Justin Rosas, who is defending several others arrested at Hawthorne Park on Sept. 22 and is representing them in pending lawsuitsagainst the city and Jackson County, criticized the decision as “clearly a giant waste of money.”

“We feel very confident that the charges will not stick or last,” Rosas said, adding that he’s “incredibly disappointed in the city of Medford, but not the least surprised.”

Ehrlich told the Oregon chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists shortly after her arrest that she was unable to document interactions between police officers and campers from a staging area police set up for media covering the park sweep.

“Without interfering with police actions, Ehrlich continued her work as a reporter documenting the sweep,” wrote the SPJ Oregon board, which condemned her arrest “in the strongest possible terms.”

The city’s municipal code defines resisting arrest as involving “the use or threatened use of violence, physical force or any other means that creates a substantial risk of physical injury to any person.”

Under Medford’s municipal code, the law claims it’s not a legal defense for resisting arrest “that the peace officer lacked legal authority to make the arrest.”

Resisting arrest carries maximum penalties of a fine up to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to one year, and trespassing carries up to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Municipal Court allows community service as an alternative to incarceration.

The Mail Tribune submitted a public records request for body camera video of Ehrlich’s arrest to independently verify claims made by involved parties, but the city has refused to release the footage until the conclusion of the case.

The Mail Tribune appealed the city’s decision Oct. 6 with the District Attorney’s office. In response, Mitton argued against the release of the footage as a “temporary exemption to preserve a fair trial for all litigants,” according to a letter he provided Oct. 15 to District Attorney Beth Heckert.

“It is essential to the jury trial process that jurors go into the process with an open mind so that attorneys on each side can present evidence as appropriate, and the jury can then decide the case based solely on the evidence presented by each side in court as each attorney chooses to present it.”

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