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Nearly two years after arrest, a judge dismisses charges against OPB reporter April Ehrlich

Medford police at Hawthorne Park in Medford, Ore., on Tuesday, Sept. 22 while clearing an encampment of people experiencing homelessness.
Erik Neumann
Medford police at Hawthorne Park in Medford, Ore., on Tuesday, Sept. 22 while clearing an encampment of people experiencing homelessness.

Charges against an Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter have been dismissed, just before her pending trial. The charges stemmed from the evacuation of a homeless camp by Medford Police two years ago.

April Ehrlich presents at an SEJ conference in Portland, 2019.
Brian Bull
April Ehrlich presents at an SPJ conference in Portland, 2019.

On September 22, 2020, April Ehrlich – then a reporter for Jefferson Public Radio – 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.

A bar graph based on 2020 incident reports to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker shows a higher than usual amount of arrests and assaults against journalists.
U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
A bar graph based on 2020 incident reports to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker shows a higher than usual amount of arrests and assaults against journalists.

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, 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.

Sahouri’s trial and Ehrlich’s arrest drew the attention of free press advocates and journalism organizations across the globe. TheU.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.

Copyright @2022, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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