People are seen in tent shelters in Medford, Oregon, on September 16, 2020. Journalist April Ehrlich was recently arrested and charged while covering evictions from a Medford park. (AFP/Getty/Nathan Howard)

Journalist April Ehrlich facing criminal charges over reporting on homelessness in Oregon

Washington, D.C., September 25, 2020 —The Medford Police Department in southwest Oregon should drop all charges against journalist April Ehrlich, and refrain from filing criminal charges against members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On the morning of September 22, Medford police arrested Ehrlich, a reporter for National Public Radio affiliate station JPR, while she was reporting on evictions of people who had been living in the city’s downtown park, according to a report by her employer and JPR Executive Director Paul Westhelle, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

Police held Ehrlich for several hours, charged her with second-degree criminal trespassing, interfering with a peace officer, and resisting arrest, and then released her that afternoon, according to the station’s report.

“Law enforcement officials should not have arrested reporter April Ehrlich while she was simply doing her job and reporting on a matter of public interest,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna. “The charges against Ehrlich must be dropped immediately, and the Medford police should revise their policies to ensure that journalists can cover the news without fear of arrest and criminal prosecution.”

If convicted of second-degree criminal trespassing, a Class C misdemeanor, Ehrlich could face a prison term of up to 30 days and a fine of up to $1,250; interfering with a peace officer and resisting arrest are Class A misdemeanors, which each carry a maximum prison sentence of 364 days and fines of up to $6,250, according to the Oregon penal code.

Medford Police Lieutenant Mike Budreau told local ABC affiliate NewsWatch 12 that Ehrlich, whose legal name is April Fonseca, was arrested after she failed to follow police instructions to leave the park. Ten other people were also arrested at the scene, according to that report.

JPR said in a statement that police had directed reporters to a “media staging area” where “it was not possible to adequately see or hear interactions between officers and campers, or gather audio,” and that Ehrlich had remained in the park to cover the evictions.

In an emailed statement to CPJ, Budreau said that Ehrlich “declined to go the media staging area, she proceeded to enter the park against numerous officer’s orders and was placed under arrest for violating the closure of the park.”

Budreau also said 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.”

Budreau did not respond to CPJ’s questions about why Ehrlich was criminally charged.

Westhelle told CPJ that JPR stood by the journalist’s actions and “supports April Ehrlich’s resolve and courage to stand up for her First Amendment right to do her work on behalf of citizens.”