Ashland officials will have to testify

Ashland's city attorney on Thursday attempted to protect city officials from having to testify at former Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas' pending trial, but a judge denied the motion.

Navickas' weeklong trial is slated to begin Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court.

He faces three misdemeanor charges — two counts of interfering with police and one count of disorderly conduct — stemming from his conduct during a protest June 28, 2011 in the city's Plaza protesting the expansion of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area. Navickas has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The state alleges Navickas encouraged marchers to walk in the street without a proper permit and resisted arrest by an Ashland police officer during the march. A video posted on YouTube appears to show Navickas resisting Ashland police officer John Perrone's attempt to arrest him.

Judge Tim Gerking denied City Attorney David Lohman's motion to quash a subpoena requiring Mayor John Stromberg and Councilor Michael Morris to testify.

"I can't make that ruling," Gerking said.

Lohman argued neither man was at the protest scene. He speculated Navickas' public defender, Justin Rosas, would try to use Stromberg's testimony to show previous protests may not have required permits, and that Morris, who in 2010 unseated Navickas in a landslide victory, may have had "a special animosity" toward Navickas.

Rosas argued the two officials should be required to testify. Lohman filed his motion at the last possible moment.

Navickas was unable to attend Thursday's hearing because of a prior commitment, Rosas said, adding the state has already been granted one continuance.

Navickas has said in the past that he has been involved in protests in Ashland in which citizens peacefully marched down the street without a permit to do so, and police did not get involved. Navickas also previously told the Mail Tribune he believes the U.S. Constitution protects citizens' right to assemble.

"I don't think a person should have to be punished for their response to unnecessary police behavior," he said.

Responding to the protest a Rogue Valley Transportation District bus driver complained to police, Perrone initially placed Navickas under arrest for disorderly conduct as the leader of the anti-expansion rally after protesters walked down the street without the proper permit, Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said. The protesters ignored several police warnings to return to the sidewalk and Navickas encouraged protesters to remain in the street, he said.

Perrone used his own discretion and decided not to pursue Navickas and finish the arrest, Holderness said. Considering the number of protesters and the fact they returned to the sidewalk after Navickas was confronted, "it made more sense to deal with the issue later," Holderness said.

The Jackson County District Attorney's Office reviewed eyewitness reports, video of the incident and numerous police reports submitted by Ashland police before filing the charges against Navickas.

Navickas and about 60 others also staged a follow-up protest against the ski area expansion in front of the U.S. Forest Service building on Washington Street in Ashland.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.


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