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Ashland city leaders respond to reports of death threats against OSF director

OSF Artistic Director Nataki Garrett
Christopher Briscoe
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
OSF Artistic Director Nataki Garrett

Recent reporting about death threats aimed at Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Nataki Garrett has sparked the attention of city leaders.

A few months ago, OSF hired a private security detail to ensure the safety of Garrett. Two recent NPR articles detail the threats she received and the response to them.

Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said he was never told about the threats and only learned about them when NPR published a story in late September. NPR reports Garrett said she did not feel "confident" talking with the police.

"I know that people have to reach out and engage the police in the manner that they feel comfortable doing it. [...] And I respect that," O'Meara said. "Everyone has to understand that we can't do anything about something that we don't know anything about."

Now, O'Meara said he wants the department to have close communication with Garrett’s security team so they can work together.

"We did agree that we wanted to come together on a regular basis and have a more open and engaging partnership to address these issues and any other issues that come up. So we already have another meeting planned for November, and we want to make ourselves as available as possible," he said.

O’Meara said the department wants to ensure open communication with OSF and will continue working with the local nonprofit Black Alliance and Social Empowerment, as it has for the past two years.

"I want everybody to feel comfortable in Ashland. I want everybody to feel comfortable reaching out to the police," he said.

At times, OSF has had a fraught relationship with the Ashland Police Department, including a 2021 ACLU lawsuit against the department over the 2019 arrest of a Latino OSF actor.

O'Meara said the details of the death threats Garrett received have not been shared with police, so they are not investigating them.

During an Oct. 4 City Council meeting, Ashland Mayor Julie Akins read a statement condemning the threats, as did the city’s Social Equity and Racial Justice Committee on Oct. 18.

"We hope that this statement will be shared widely on both social and traditional media as our community’s history of racism needs to be confronted and exposed. Without this confrontation and exposure, the work that this community and City Council have been doing to root out our racist past and embrace an anti-racist culture will fall far short," the committee's statement said.

Akins said she learned of Garrett's security detail shortly before the September NPR article was published. She said she normally would receive information through OSF, the police department, or the social equity committee. But instead, she learned about it during a breakfast with OSF Executive Director David Schmitz. (NPR reports that Schmitz said they discussed the matter in August).

Now, Akins wants to send a message.

"So now that I have the information, what I have done is I've delivered a message to the community regarding community engagement, continued conversation, working with the police, working on a true education of all of us regarding issues of race," she said.

Akins said she’s working with Garrett and with the community to determine what response would be appropriate, including forwarding the matter to the committee. She hopes to focus on local education and creating a more diverse community, in particular by hiring a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer.

"We're looking at getting into the bones of this, into the roots of this, and trying to figure out what we can do to make our mark on what is a systemic problem," Akins said.

In addition, she highlighted the importance of supporting Garrett.

"We absolutely are surrounding Nataki Garrett as a community to make sure that in going forward, she is safe. She needs to know that she is loved and respected here," she said.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.