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DA denies Mail Tribune request for bodycam footage of alleged assault

Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert ruled Thursday that the Mail Tribune should not have access to police officer body camera video taken Jan. 25, 2021, during the arrest of Noel Palomera-Vasquez, who has said he plans to file an excessive force lawsuit against the city.

Both Palomera-Vasquez and one of the arresting officers say they were injured during the incident, which started as a trespassing case at the Circle K on Barnett Road and South Riverside Avenue.

The confrontation resulted in multiple officers attempting to physically restrain Palomera-Vasquez after he walked out of the store. Palomera-Vasquez had told a police officer that he was under the influence of methamphetamine, according to previous reports.

Lawyers representing Palomera-Vasquez provided copies of police body camera video to The Oregonian and KDRV in December.

The Mail Tribune argued, first to the city of Medford and later in its appeal to the district attorney, that it should have access to the footage before criminal proceedings because it already had been made public by other media outlets.

In video on The Oregonian’s website, officers are shown using a Taser on Palomera-Vasquez and hitting him in the head with the weapon, while others kneel on his back and try to keep him from kicking.

A photo on The Oregonian’s website shows a Medford police officer with a small drop of blood on his face. Paramedics treated Palomera-Vasquez at the scene for abrasions, according to police.

In the Jan. 11 denial of the public records request, Medford City Attorney Eric Mitton cited a 2019 publication “Oregon Media and the Courts,” saying, “it is unprofessional for any lawyer to exploit any medium of public information to enhance one side of a pending case.”

Palomera-Vasquez has two attorneys: Christine Herbert, appointed by Jackson County Circuit Court, and Matthew Rowan, retained by the defendant, according to court documents.

Mitton also claimed that pretrial media coverage could expose potential jurors to evidence.

The Mail Tribune contacted Herbert and Rowan in December, but they declined to provide the Medford police officers’ bodycam footage.

The Mail Tribune submitted a public records request Dec. 29, to the Medford Police Department for officer bodycam video of the arrest of Palomera-Vasquez, beginning from when an officer asked the suspect to exit the Circle K and up until the suspect was arrested.

After the city denied the request, the Mail Tribune appealed to Heckert, arguing that the video was already in the public realm and on several news websites.

On Thursday, Heckert ruled in favor of the city, supporting Mitton’s argument that the state’s public records law excludes the release of such material by government entities.

“There is a time, in the future, when the videos will be available under the public records statutes,” she added in her order.

Palomera-Vasquez was charged with assault of a public safety officer, resisting arrest, interfering with a peace officer, and second-degree criminal trespass. The case is scheduled for trial Feb. 15.

Palomera-Vasquez was indicted in October by a grand jury for a separate incident. He is alleged to have committed one count of second-degree assault constituting domestic violence and three counts of fourth-degree assault constituting domestic violence. That case is scheduled for trial March 29.

Reach reporter Terri Harber at tharber@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.