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Demonstrator ordered to pay hundreds for chalking Medford sidewalk

An Ashland woman was ordered to pay almost $500 for her role in a downtown Medford demonstration that involved temporary sidewalk chalk.

A Jackson County judge sided with a Medford Municipal Court ruling last week, ruling that $493.04 was a reasonable amount for Teresa Safay to pay for cleaning up spray chalk left on the sidewalk outside former Congressman Greg Walden’s office Oct. 8, 2019.

Safay was among numerous Oregon District 2 Indivisible demonstrators who gathered outside Walden’s office in the first block of North Central Avenue and wrote messages in chalk urging the congressman to vote to impeach Donald Trump, according to a ruling filed Feb. 26 in Jackson County Circuit Court.

In March of last year, Safay was cited for “defacing streets or sidewalks” by purchasing spray sidewalk chalk and distributing it to other demonstrators during the impeachment demonstration. Safay was charged with violating a Medford code that says, “No person shall mark, deface or paint an alley, street, sidewalk, bicycle path or any part of the public right-of-way except as permitted by council.”

Safay’s lawyer, Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, sought to have the citation dismissed in June, citing among other arguments that Safay specifically used a sidewalk chalk that was designed to be temporary — not paint — and argued that the code was “intended to apply to permanent or semi-permanent marks.” Regan further sought to argue that the messages were protected speech under the constitution.

Safay has served as a board member for Oregon District 2 Indivisible’s steering committee, according to earlier news reports.

On Dec. 23, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia found Safay guilty of the code violation. In his ruling, Mejia stated that the spray container had the message, “Durable spray lasts up to seven days.”

“I find that seven days is semi-permanent enough to come under the prohibition of the code,” Mejia wrote. “Regardless of the content of the colorful protest, (Safay’s) actions detracted from the intended state of the sidewalk. The sidewalk was defaced.”

Mejia further ruled that Safay expected someone else to clean up the chalk markings, adding, “It is also clear that she left no instructions or suggestions as to how to clean up the markings.”

The person hired to clean up the chalk spent seven hours at a rate of $50 per hour to clean up about three car lengths of sidewalk chalk, according to court filings.

In late January, Safay’s lawyer disputed the $493.04 restitution amount for the cleanup. They argued that the building overpaid the contractor, and that the contractor did not follow instructions on the cleaning product.

On Feb. 23, Mejia ruled that the $493.04 restitution amount was reasonable. He stated that the contractor’s job “was made much more difficult by the fact that he did not know what substance had been sprayed on the sidewalk.”

“In fact, he thought it was paint, not chalk ... under the totality of the circumstances, I find the amount charged and paid [to the contractor], $494.03, reasonable,” Mejia wrote. “I leave the restitution figure unchanged.”

Court records showed Wednesday that Safay had paid all fines and fees amounting to $532.50 in the case.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.