An Ashland woman who parked on the edge of I-5 to observe white Oregon State Police troopers after they stopped a black driver has been found guilty of interfering with a police officer for refusing orders to leave.
Jackson County Circuit Judge David Hoppe handed down his guilty verdict on the misdemeanor interfering charge Thursday. He dismissed a violation for illegal parking or stopping.
Keely Meagan, 55, stopped on the edge of I-5 near Medford's south interchange Sept. 8, 2016, after she saw the troopers and the black driver, who had his hands on his head. She said she feared for the black driver's safety because of nationwide reports of police shooting black people.
Hoppe said Meagan has a right to observe police interactions with people, but she created a danger to everyone involved by stopping on the I-5 shoulder.
"You can continue to do that in a safe area. That wasn't safe, and I think you recognize that," Hoppe said.
After watching an OSP video of the incident, Hoppe said Meagan was dangerously near the interchange at Exit 27. Drivers going by her were not moving over into the left passing lane — as Oregon law requires when emergency vehicles are stopped at the edge of the highway — because they were staying in the right lane to take the exit into Medford.
"What happened that day was dangerous to you, too. You very well could have been hurt or killed," Hoppe told Meagan.
He added, "You can continue to do what you think is right, but don't stop behind police officers on I-5 in those circumstances."
Although he found her guilty, Hoppe ruled there would be no further punishment of Meagan.
She lost her job as a driver's education teacher after being charged in the incident.
During Meagan's one-day trial before Hoppe Wednesday, she said she understood the police officer's concern about the danger of the situation after she viewed the video.
"You admitted you understood the trooper's perspective," Hoppe said.
Hoppe said he did not believe Meagan's actions constituted a case of civil disobedience and passive resistance.
He did laud her for her empathy and said he has no doubts there are problems in American society.
An environmental and social activist, Meagan, who is white, authored an online essay "How Whites Can Say 'Black Lives Matter,' " which she posted in 2015. During Wednesday's trial, she said she has a duty to stop every time she sees a black driver pulled over by police.
Following the verdict, Meagan was surrounded by her supporters in the court lobby.
"I think I've been an example of a white person standing up for justice for people of color. People are inspired by that," she said.
While there have been no shootings of black people by local law enforcement officers, Meagan said she believes racism is a problem locally.
"I have witnessed a lack of understanding on the part of officers of the reality of black people in this country and the fear they have of being killed for no good reason," she said.
Meagan said she wants to help find constructive ways to improve safety for everyone, whether they are police officers, people being arrested or bystanders.
Defense attorney Lisa Janoski said by going to trial, Meagan was able to convey an important message about her convictions.
Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Jordan Bailey said he was pleased with the guilty verdict.
He said Oregon State Police have to manage situations on I-5 that can be very dangerous both in terms of the suspects they have stopped and other drivers passing by.
According to testimony during the trial, the black driver who was stopped was suspected of driving under the influence of intoxicants. He admitted to having consumed marijuana, but passed field sobriety tests and was not charged with a DUII. His vehicle was towed because he was driving without insurance. The driver and his passenger walked away from the scene.
Under Oregon law, police officers may have vehicles impounded if they have probable cause to believe a person is driving without insurance.
— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.