JPR Statement On The Arrest Of Reporter April Ehrlich At The Hawthorne Park Camp Sweep
On September 22nd, Jefferson Public Radio (JPR) reporter April Ehrlich was arrested by the Medford Police Department (MPD) for doing her job.
She was covering the police action that day to clear nearly 100 unhoused people out of Hawthorne Park near downtown Medford. April arrived at the park early and began her work. She talked to people who were there, and asked them how long they had been there, were they displaced in connection with the recent Almeda Fire, had they tried to find space in shelters, where would they go?
Police arrived at approximately 8am and began clearing the park, and also directed reporters and news media to a “media staging area” according to a statement released by MPD’s Lt. Mike Budreau. The staging area was located at one of the entrances to the park, in a location where it was not possible to adequately see or hear interactions between police officers and campers, or gather audio.
April attempted to continue her work, telling the stories she saw as a journalist, rather than being managed toward the people and stories MPD wanted her to see. When she refused to leave the public park, MPD arrested her and charged her with criminal trespassing, interfering with a peace officer and resisting arrest. She spent the rest of the day being booked into, and finally released from, the overcrowded Jackson County Jail during the pandemic.
There was no compelling public safety issue in the park that day, no violent person, no weapons, no threats – just a group of homeless people with stories. April is a professional journalist and part of her job is being present during charged situations that sometimes involve law enforcement – she knows how to be close enough to report without interfering. She respects the work of law enforcement.
April was not in the park as an advocate, she was there as a journalist, consistent with the protections afforded her and JPR by the First Amendment. She was there to see how the police action was being carried out and to inform the public. JPR stands by April’s award-winning journalism and supports the courage it can take to tell compelling stories that don’t echo the narratives the institutions we cover sometimes lead us to.
We call on the MPD and the City of Medford to support more transparent press access during planned police operations in order to enable journalists to provide the public the essential information it needs to participate in our democracy.
The Oregon Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has issued a statement in support of JPR's April Ehrlich and journalists' First Amendment right to report on police activity without harassment, unreasonable restrictions or arrest.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has issued a similar statement.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has also issued a statement of support