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Group claims Medford used 'unconstitutional and inhumane' treatment in clearing of Hawthorne Park

The group 'Hawthorne Mutual Aid' has filed a civil claim against the City of Medford after officers cleared a homeless camp in the park last week, arresting and citing multiple people.

Posted: Sep 28, 2020 11:23 AM
Updated: Sep 28, 2020 11:34 AM

MEDFORD, Ore. — Members of a group known as Hawthorne Mutual Aid announced through an attorney over the weekend that they plan to file a civil claim against the City of Medford for "unconstitutional and inhumane treatment" after officers from Medford Police cleared a homeless camp in Hawthorne Park last week.

The camp at Hawthorne Park grew in the wake of the Almeda Fire, and particularly from the closure of the Bear Creek Greenway between Ashland and Medford — displacing a number of people accustomed to camping along the Greenway.

According to a press release issued by Justin Rosas, the attorney representing members of Hawthorne Mutual Aid, the group was formed after the Almeda Fire by a group of volunteers looking to provide food and shelter to "anyone displaced by fire" — including, but not limited to, those pushed out of the Greenway.

"This mutual aid was no different than any of the other mutual aid programs that popped up through the good deeds of many around the valley for those in need," Rosas' statement said. "Through relentless efforts, the volunteers provided food, tents, bedding, sleeping bags, a sense of safety and community, some minor medical care and access to mental health crisis care among an estimated 100 displaced, houseless or disenfranchised people. People were welcome whether they had been previously houseless, lost their dwelling due to fires, or had a house that was still standing but needed a little support during a difficult time."

After the City received several complaints from nearby businesses and other community members, Medford Police visited the park last Monday, issuing notifications that campers would need to leave within 24 hours. The agency said that officers were accompanied by representatives from Rogue Retreat to set up the homeless with opportunities for shelter.

"The shelter options given to those homeless were completely full as usual, and as usual the City of Medford empowered the Medford Police Department to displace, ticket, and arrest houseless community members who had nowhere else to go," said Rosas. "The City's proclamation that 34 people were connected with Rogue Retreat is at best partially false as there were no open spaces at Rogue Retreat's low-barrier shelters, those people were just placed on a lengthy waitlist. All shelters were full and had a waitlist, except the Gospel Mission which has strict admissions policies including agreeing to observe Christianity for at least a two-year period."

Officers returned on Tuesday morning to clear out anyone left behind, making 11 arrests, including a reporter from Jefferson Public Radio.

Hawthorne Mutual Aid also took umbrage with the Medford Police Department's assertion that members of the media had been directed to a staging area at the entrance of the park — claiming that campers, volunteers, and members of the media were swiftly arrested without notice beyond those issued the day prior.

"There was no 'media staging area' or contact with any of the media informing them of such an area," Rosas' statement said. "There was no staging. There was no area. There was no information shared to the media beforehand about where to be. No notices were posted around the park. One of those arrested was given five seconds to leave the park, he started to walk out and he was grabbed when the officer shouted '3.'"

The statement claims that one disabled and homeless man was arrested "with force" and was placed inside of a van with five other people as he experienced a medical emergency, vomiting. None of the van's occupants were provided with masks or water, the complainants said.

"Those arrested were held for more than 9 hours after posting bail for the minor municipal violation of Trespassing for which hardened criminals are usually issued citations," Rosas' statement continued. "They were harassed, they were denied medical treatment, access to a phone call, water, basic necessities. One of them was shoved by a jail guard."

Rosas and his clients called upon the City of Medford, Jackson County, and the local community to have an "honest conversation" about the resources available to the homeless population, in order to develop humane solutions instead of arrests and jail time.

"Forced displacement requiring such an agreement when no other local low-barrier shelter vacancy exists is a blatant violation of the 'cruel and unusual punishment' clause of the US Constitution's Eighth Amendment," Rosas said, referring to the Gospel Mission shelter. "This is based on clear legal precedents including the case of Martin v. City of Boise and the recent decision against the City of Grants Pass."

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