Police in Medford County, Oregon, arrested award-winning journalist April Ehrlich on September 22 for interviewing homeless people displaced by Oregon wildfires as officers swept their park encampment. Ehrlich, a reporter for NPR affiliate station Jefferson Public Radio and vice president of Oregon’s Society for Professional Journalists, had been on the scene since the early morning to document police enforcement of a 24-hour eviction notice. After Ehrlich declined to go to the police-designated “media staging area” at a park entrance, where it was impossible to fully observe interactions between officers and campers, police arrested her for proceeding to enter the zone being cleared. Ten other people were arrested at the scene the same day.
Though Ehrlich was released later that afternoon, she faces baseless charges for second-degree criminal trespassing, interfering with a police officer and resisting arrest. If convicted on charges of interfering with a police officer and resisting arrest, Ehrlich could face $6,250 in fines and 364 days in prison. Second-degree criminal trespassing carries a prison term of 30 days and fines of up to $1,250.
“It is appalling that the Medford Police arrested and brought criminal charges against April Ehrlich for reporting on a matter of public interest in a public park,” said Daphne Pellegrino, Advocacy Manager for RSF USA. “These charges should be dropped and the Medford Police Department should take steps to ensure authorities do not subject journalists to such punitive measures in the future.”
The United States ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.