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Disabled man suing Medford police alleges retaliation at bus station

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Former Medford resident John Malaer was denied access to a bus ride home to the Oregon Coast after attending depositions of Medford police officers and the city manager on Saturday.

Malaer is suing the police department and the Jackson County Sheriff's office for false arrest and abuse inside the Jackson County Jail in 2019. First reported by The Oregonian, video from the jail shows Malaer being slapped by a sheriff’s deputy. Because of his disability, he was left in a cell for hours without access to the sink or a catheter that he needed to relieve himself.

Malaer is an advocate for homeless people with disabilities, and has served on the Jackson County Continuum of Care Board among other community boards.

On January 3rd, Malaer was involved in an incident on his ride into Medford with a bus driver for POINT, a bus service managed by the Oregon Department of Transportation that connects Klamath Falls to Brookings. Malaer, who uses a wheelchair, reportedly unhooked his wheelchair from the restraints before the bus came to a complete stop.

In a video recorded by Malaer’s attorney, Alicia LeDuc Montgomery, the bus driver said she was verbally abused and sworn at after confronting Malaer for the safety violation.

Then, on January 7th, the driver denied Malaer access to the bus for his return trip home. A Rogue Valley Transportation District security officer, also seen in the video, said LeDuc Montgomery was not allowed to film at the transit center, saying it's private property, and that both needed to leave.

“That was their understanding, that RVTD [transit center] is private property that allows public access,” said LeDuc Montgomery. “But I do not believe that is the standard when it comes to government-owned property providing government core services such as public transportation by bus.”

According to Oregon Statute, a “public place” refers to a place the general public has access to, which specifically includes “premises used in connection with public passenger transportation.”

LeDuc Montgomery said because there’s no expectation of privacy, the right to film in a public place – especially the filming of security and police officers – is not grounds to cite someone for trespassing.

A police officer who arrived at the request of RVTD security also claimed that both Malaer and his attorney were trespassing, Malaer for a previous violation banning him from the transit center, and LeDuc Montgomery for filming without permission.

“It was concerning to me to also experience firsthand how quickly the police were to resort to ‘you’re excluded from this public service, you’re excluded from this public place,’” LeDuc Montgomery said. “There was zero harm, zero violence, zero violation going on.”

Later on, the officer claimed that “thousands but [at least] hundreds of people” have been trespassed from the public transit center. The Medford Police Department hasn’t yet confirmed that claim.

LeDuc Montgomery said it’s concerning that so many people might be barred from accessing an area known to be the primary hub for transportation in the region. On top of RVTD bus service, Greyhound and other inter-city services use the transit center as a stop.

After a sergeant arrived on the scene, the situation became more clear. The RVTD security officer said that Malaer was not trespassing, and that the previous restriction banning him had expired in 2022.

Neither Malaer nor his attorney were cited. They were left to find alternative transportation. LeDuc Montgomery said because of an inability to access the POINT bus, Malaer’s trip home was extended for days.

“There appears to be a systemic lack of training for those who are being paid and tasked to enforce the laws in these core public service spaces about what the parameters of their enforcement authority are and whether or not it’s even legal what they were doing,” said LeDuc Montgomery.

The City of Medford, in an email response, confirmed the incident happened and that officers ultimately took no action. But the city declined to comment further, citing the pending litigation with Malaer.

Copyright 2023 Jefferson Public Radio. To see more, visit Jefferson Public Radio.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast. When not out in the field, Roman enjoys travelling and cross-stitching.