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Media & Society

Attorneys ‘Disappointed’ Medford Is Pressing Charges In Hawthorne Park Homeless Camp Sweep

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April Ehrlich / JPR News
In September, unsheltered people set up dozens of tents in Hawthorne Park in Medford as a form of protest against "clean sweeps" by city police.

Attorneys for nine people arrested in a controversial homeless camp sweep in Medford say they are not deterred by the city’s recent decision to uphold criminal charges.


Stephen Houze, who represents Jefferson Public Radio reporter April Ehrlich, said they will “fight these charges vigorously on her behalf.”

“It is our position that April is innocent — absolutely innocent of these charges,” Houze said of Ehrlich, who was reporting on the sweep at the time.

Justin Rosas, who represents eight other people arrested, called the city’s decision unsurprising. He stated the city attorney works directly for the city manager, who ordered the sweeps.

“Incredibly disappointing, but not at all surprising,” Rosas said. “This is a huge waste of resources. … The city is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a needless prosecution and continue to ignore its mandate to serve the underserved people in the city and county.”

The city of Medford recently revealed its intentions to pursue charges against legal observers and Ehrlich, whom the city cited during the Sept. 22 sweep of Hawthorne Park. The city’s decision was first reported by the Mail Tribune in Medford.

“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,” city spokesperson Kristina Johnsen said in a statement.

“Despite the public awareness and notoriety associated with these matters, these cases will be handled in the same manner as other criminal cases.”

Medford officials said they swept the park that morning because the park became a health and safety hazard. Scores of unhoused individuals, many displaced by the Almeda Fire two weeks prior, had set up camp there.

The arrests occurred shortly after police arrived. Legal observers and Ehrlich, reporting for the radio station, were present in the public park to watch and report on the sweep. The city has maintained the public park was legally closed by the city manager.

Nine people were cited and arrested for trespassing. Two also faced charges of resisting arrest.

Houze and Rosas said they will enter pleas of not guilty. Rosas, who has signaled his intentions to sue the city on his clients' behalf, said six more attorneys have joined the defense pro bono.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting