April Ehrlich was reporting for JPR on encampment sweep in September 2020
By Stephen Floyd for Ashland.news
An Ashland-based reporter arrested in Medford in 2020 during the city’s sweep of a Medford homeless camp has been given a trial date of this August on misdemeanor charges.
April Ehrlich, currently a reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting, is scheduled for trial Sept. 16 and 19, 2022, in Medford Municipal Court. She is charged with resisting arrest and trespassing, and faces up to a year in jail and a $6,250 fine.
Ehrlich, who has been charged under her legal name, April Fonseca, has denied wrongdoing. Her attorney, Portland-based defense lawyer Stephen Houze, said they plan to vigorously contest the charges.
Despite outcry against Ehrlich’s arrest and prosecution, Medford has said it is treating Ehrlich’s case the same as a criminal proceeding against any other defendant.
Ehrlich was arrested Sept. 22, 2020, while covering the eviction of nearly 100 campers at Hawthorne Park in downtown Medford. At the time she was a reporter for Ashland-based Jefferson Public Radio.
The number of campers in the park had surged during the COVID-19 pandemic and again after the Almeda Fire on Sept. 8, two weeks prior to the arrest, destroyed thousands of area residences. The Medford city manager’s office, citing “unsafe and unsanitary conditions,” ordered the park closed to the public. Though the city suggested alternative shelter options, advocates for campers said these alternatives were either already full, impractical due to the pandemic, or had other barriers to access.
In anticipation of police action, Ehrlich and other reporters arrived at the park early that morning and began interviewing campers. When police arrived, journalists were told to gather in a designated press area at an entrance to the park away from the evictions.
Ehrlich refused to remain in the designated area, as she said she could not adequately observe police actions or record audio. When she attempted to re-enter the park, multiple officers detained her and she was placed under arrest, then booked into and released from the Jackson County Jail.
Numerous groups have since condemned the city’s actions as a violation of Ehrlich’s First Amendment rights, including American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Committee to Protect Journalists and Society of Professional Journalists (at the time of her arrest, Ehrlich was vice president of SPJs Oregon chapter).
The Medford Mail Tribune has requested a copy of police body camera footage to confirm the city’s allegations against Ehrlich, however the city has denied this request on the grounds that the footage is evidence in an ongoing investigation and, they say, releasing it prior to conclusion of the case may compromise Ehrlich’s ability to receive a fair trial.
Email freelance reporter Stephen Floyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 5 update: Date for trail corrected to say Sept. 16 and 19, not Aug. 30, 2022.