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Verbal assailant apparently known to police

The person who spouted intimidating hate speech at an African-American actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival while she was walking her dog in Ashland's Railroad District June 24 is likely a local transient known through repeated encounters with police, according to Ashland Police Department reports released Friday in response to a Daily Tidings' public records request.

The transient's name, along with that of the victim of the hate speech, is redacted in the documents, but details are the same as OSF actor Christiana Clark's Facebook post on June 24 about the incident, which has been viewed nearly 200,000 times as of Friday afternoon.

The police reports make references to the transient's lack of ability to focus over the course of repeated encounters. That and physical descriptions in the reports are consistent with descriptions by people familiar with Ashland's homeless community of a serial perpetrator of racially based verbal attacks.

While "decrying this hateful speech," according to a statement from the Ashland Police Department on June 27 after consultations with the county district attorney's office, "the determination has been made there was no crime committed."

According to the police report, a man on a bicycle shouted to Clark, "It's still an Oregon law. I could kill a black person and be out of jail in a day and a half. The KKK is still alive here."

The report says that the description of the person — 40-50 years old, about 6 feet tall, no facial hair, eye glasses or earrings — matches that of an Ashland transient whom police encountered and questioned June 25.

That report says the investigating officer "had multiple contacts with (the male) over the last few weeks ... (he) was difficult to speak with because he could not stay focused."

The same transient was involved in a previous "disturbance on the Plaza," the report says, involving a physical altercation between the transient and an African-American. The officer was told the transient was known to use racial slurs and threatened to kill someone, whose name was redacted. The report also noted the transient was seen by a police officer walking a bicycle about an hour before the Railroad District incident.

The transient denied being near Railroad Park at the time of the incident, but did say he walked through town on the bike path, which runs through Railroad Park. 

The victim of the verbal attack, according to a third and final report, written by Ashland police Chief Tighe O'Meara, was unable to identify the suspect in a photo lineup. The report notes that the photo of the suspect was about three years old and showed the suspect with much longer hair than he currently has.

That report says O'Meara consulted with county Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Markiewicz, and O'Meara and Markiewicz agreed "that there was likely no criminal act in this incident due to the fact that the suspect made (an incorrect) statement of fact, as opposed to making a direct threat to the victim." The case was closed, "pending further information," the report concludes.

"Where there's only speech and no actions, even if it's a speech we don't agree with, there's nothing we can do," Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert told the Mail Tribune. "It's protected under the First Amendment."

A similar incident reportedly occurred Wednesday when another OSF employee, Mica Cole, was on South Pioneer Street near the Bricks, where Green Shows are held. In a social media post, Cole said "a white man looked me in the face and told me he was going to kill me. Twice."

She said police officers told her the man is mentally ill and didn't really intend to kill her.

Email Tidings Editor Bert Etling at betling@dailytidings.com, call him at 541-631-1313 and follow him at www.twitter.com/betling. Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.