Ashland Woman Fined For Using Chalk On Sidewalk During Protest In Medford
An Ashland woman is being charged for using spray chalk on a sidewalk outside former Oregon Congressman Greg Walden’s office in Medford. Her attorney argues she’s being targeted with a local municipal code because of the political nature of her speech.
On October 8, 2019 Teresa Safay and members of the progressive activist group Indivisible held a protest outside Walden’s Medford campaign office. During the event they used colorful spray chalk on the sidewalk to urge Walden to vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump.
After the incident, Safay was charged with violating Medford municipal code 5.260 “Defacing Streets or Sidewalks.” After being found guilty in municipal and Jackson County circuit court, she has been ordered to pay $494.03 to compensate cleanup costs to the law firm Hornecker Cowling which shares the sidewalk and reported the violation, according to court records.
Safay’s attorney, Sarah Alvarez with the Civil Liberties Defense Center, says the code enforcement was motivated by her client’s political speech and was a violation of her rights under the Oregon Constitution and the First Amendment.
“Everybody, including Ms. Safay, has the right to protest and express dissent towards their government and in this case the firm Hornecker Cowling, it seemed to us, that they were using their connection and access to silence dissent and Ms. Safay’s and the other activists’ political message,” Alvarez says.
Sidewalk chalk is commonly used in public spaces. Court documents describe other events in Medford such as the Art in Bloom festival where chalk is routinely applied to public rights of way, but does not result in litigation. And during a December vigil for slain Ashland resident Aiden Ellison, residents used chalk to memorialize the teen outside the Jackson County Courthouse.
Prosecutors with the City of Medford, argue the restitution owed by Safay is because the spray chalk proved difficult and costly to remove.
“The reason [the case] was pursued was due to the substance that was put down and how difficult it was for the adjacent property owner to get the sidewalk clean,” says Medford Deputy City Attorney Eric Mitton.
“It had nothing to do with the substantive content of the speech.”
Household spray chalk is designed to come off with water or naturally disappear within seven days, according to product descriptions, but court documents show a contractor spent seven hours removing the substance with cleaning chemicals and a pressure washer that may have caused it to stick longer.
Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia sided with the City of Medford, requiring Safay to pay the $494.03 cleanup cost.
“I agree with the City that there was no evidence presented to suggest that Ms. Safay was cited for the content of her spray chalk protest,” Mejia wrote.
Defendant Safay was found guilty in both municipal and circuit courts. It’s unclear if any additional appeals will be made in her case.