Journalist arrested while reporting on homeless encampment in Oregon

September 22, 2020

Jefferson Public Radio reporter April Ehrlich was arrested while covering police evictions of a homeless encampment in a public park in Medford, Oregon, on Sept. 22, 2020.

JPR Executive Director Paul Westhelle said in a statement that Ehrlich had arrived at Hawthorne Park near downtown Medford in the early morning to interview some of the nearly 100 unhoused people who had taken up residence in the park. Police arrived at approximately 8 a.m. to enforce a 24-hour eviction notice.

Officers directed members of the press to a “media staging area” located at one of the entrances to the park, Westhelle said. He added that “it was not possible to adequately see or hear interactions between police officers and campers, or gather audio” from the staging area.

MPD’s Lt. Mike Budreau told the Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, that Ehrlich was arrested after reportedly refusing to go to the media staging area. Budreau added that members of the press “had full access to the park up until the public closure and the media staging location was well within view of the officers’ interactions with campers.”

JPR reported that Ehrlich was released later that afternoon with charges for criminal trespassing, interfering with a peace officer and resisting arrest.

If convicted, Ehrlich could face more than a year in prison and fines up to $7,500.

“April is a professional journalist and part of her job is being present during charged situations that sometimes involve law enforcement,” Westhelle wrote. “She knows how to be close enough to report without interfering.”

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.”

The Oregon Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists issued a statement condemning the arrest, as did CPJ and Reporters Without Borders.

JPR News Director Liam Moriarty told the Tracker that Ehrlich has a preliminary court appearance on Oct. 22.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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