Oregon journalist arrested while reporting on homeless sweep sues Medford and its police department
On September 22, 2020, April Ehrlich – now a reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting – was in Hawthorne Park, as police were removing camp residents. When Ehrlich attempted to record interactions between police and the campers, she was arrested, handcuffed, and detained. The Medford City Attorney’s Office charged Ehrlich with trespassing and resisting arrest.
Last month, Medford Municipal Court Judge William Haberlach granted a motion filed by Ehrlich’s attorney, Jacob Houze, to dismiss the trespassing charge. Days later, Haberlach also granted the Medford City Attorney’s Office motion to dismiss the charge of resisting arrest.
In a release, Ehrlich says she was humiliated and traumatized by her arrest, and calls her prosecution an attack on the Constitution’s First Amendment, and democratic freedom of the press.
Another reporter who did face trial in a similar incident in Iowa, Andrea Sahouri, agrees.
“There’s a reason why powerful actors are trying to silence us, and keep us from doing our jobs,” began Sahouri. “We need to continue to stay strong, to continue to hold people accountable, more than ever.
“And I think that while there’s real risk to our job, we should also feel motivated to keep going, because there’s a lot at stake if we don’t.”
Sahouri was pepper-sprayed and arrested by police while covering a Black Lives Matter protest for the Des Moines Register in 2020.
A year later, a jury deliberated for less than two hours before acquitting her of two misdemeanors: failure to disperse and interference with official acts.
On Thursday, JPR Executive Director Paul Westhelle hailed the dismissal of charges against Ehrlich.
"April was doing her job that day working on behalf of the public to report on an important issue facing our community but was prevented from doing her work, handcuffed and confined for hours in the Jackson County jail," he said in a release. " We're glad this incident is settled and that the court recognized that lawful news gathering is an essential element of our democratic society and is protected by the First Amendment."
Sahouri’s trial and Ehrlich’s arrest drew the attention of free press advocates and journalism organizations across the globe. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker said it documented the highest number of arrests and assaults against journalists in 2020, more than any other time in its five-year history.
The uproar over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police – as well as the fanning of anti-media sentiment by President Trump and other conservative politicians – created a volatile environment for reporters trying to cover social justice protests and the response by law enforcement.