A Jackson County jury Wednesday found former Ashland City Councilman Eric Navickas not guilty of disorderly conduct but guilty of interfering with a police officer during a June 2011 protest in downtown Ashland.
Navickas was sentenced to 11 months' bench probation and fined $250 for the Class A misdemeanor. He plans to appeal the guilty verdict, said his attorney, Justin Rosas.
Rosas said he will file an appeal today in the Oregon Court of Appeals.
The prosecution had asked that Navickas pay court fees and be fined $600 or serve 48 hours of community service.
Judge Tim Gerking denied motions made by Rosas to acquit Navickas of both charges, and refused to make a legal ruling on the interfering-with-police charge, which Rosas argued was based on an unlawful order.
Navickas refused to follow an order made by Ashland police Officer John Perrone for marchers to clear East Main Street and return to the sidewalk during the June 28, 2011, protest against the expansion of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area.
When the officer's requests were ignored and Navickas encouraged the about 40 marchers to carry on, Perrone planned to arrest Navickas. But Perrone failed to tell Navickas that he was under arrest, and Navickas continued to march, Perrone testified.
"I was never told that I was under arrest ... and there was no arrest made that day," Navickas said during his testimony.
Rosas argued that Perrone's order was unlawful because the officer made it based on the fact that demonstrators did not have a permit, not out of a concern for public safety, which Perrone testified was true.
Gerking told the jury that he believed Ashland's permitting process at the time, which required hundreds of dollars in fees and months of notice to surrounding businesses, was unconstitutional.
"The permitting process that was being employed by the city of Ashland back on June 28, 2011, was unconstitutional," Gerking said.
Whether Perrone's intention was to clear the street out of concern for public safety or because protestors didn't have the proper permits, "that is a question that has to be resolved by the jury," Gerking said.
Ashland has since dropped the notification requirement for events that can be defined as "rolling road closures," but still requires a permit with a $130 base fee.
"The permit process was across the board unconstitutional," Rosas said. "You can't order someone out of the street based on an unconstitutional ordinance. It is unlawful."
On the first day of the trial Tuesday, Gerking dismissed a second interfering-with-police charge against Navickas.
Regarding the disorderly conduct charge, the jury ultimately sided with the defense. Rosas argued that the city of Ashland knew beforehand that the demonstration was going to occur, took no steps to stop it, and that the flow of traffic on East Main Street was not being blocked by marchers.
Deputy District Attorney Paul Moser argued that protesters were partially blocking traffic, and creating a hazard by doing so.
All of the APD officers who testified during the trial and Ashland Mayor John Stromberg said they could not recall how they heard about the protest in the days leading up to it, but former City Councilman Mike Morris testified that he and other council members learned about the protest from a flier posted outside Caldera Tap House before the demonstration, and knew it was going to occur without the proper permits.
Shaking his head during closing arguments, Rosas described the witnesses' forgetfulness as a "circling of the wagons."
"You heard a lot of 'I don't remember, I can't recall, I don't believe,'" Rosas told jurors. "Who told all the police officers that this protest was going to happen? ... How is it that every single police officer dropped that memory? They (the city of Ashland) did have notice."
Rosas also argued that because Navickas and other marchers were allowed in the past to occupy a lane of traffic on East Main Street without obtaining permits, the city created a "custom of allowance" concerning such events.
Following the trial, Navickas said he was pleased with the results.
"I was a little surprised by the verdicts ... but I do see it as a victory," he said. "We fully intend to appeal this and I think we have a very strong case."
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at email@example.com.