A Ridgefield man says he was peacefully demonstrating in support of black lives Sunday near the city’s 56th Place roundabout when he was arrested by police.
John Tudor, 23, was cited on suspicion of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, and was released to his father. He is scheduled to appear on the charge July 16 in Battle Ground Municipal Court.
The crux of the matter appears to be where Tudor was protesting: the pedestrian relief area on Pioneer Street, also state Highway 501.
His encounter with Ridgefield police was captured in several video clips shared to Facebook, which have generated buzz in the community.
Recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice were ignited by the May 25 death of George Floyd. In an incident captured on video, Floyd died after Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
“I just want to raise awareness. I’m not looking to burn the city down,” Tudor said in a phone interview Monday.
“I think it was wrong what they did,” he said, referring to Ridgefield police. “I want to raise awareness to the injustices that go on, even in little, small-town communities. … I want to be the change that I want to see in the world.”
Ridgefield Police Chief John Brooks said he’s aware of the information circulating on social media, and he and Mayor Don Stose have received emails about it.
Brooks said the information that’s been shared online is incomplete. He issued a statement on the incident, as well as a redacted version of the police report, Monday afternoon.
“First, the Ridgefield Police Department supports people’s right to free speech. We are in an incredibly pivotal time, and people have a right and a responsibility to participate in what happens next,” the statement reads. “Secondly, the Ridgefield police have a responsibility to keep the community safe, to include: vehicle traffic, pedestrians, people at work and at home. They all depend on their police department to be looking out for their interests. For us, not to act when we see an unsafe situation, is tantamount to dereliction of duty. In this case, Mr. Tudor ignored warnings by both the police and his own parents regarding his actions.”
According to Tudor, Sunday’s encounter began around 2:45 p.m. when Ridgefield police Sgt. Jason Ferriss approached him on the pedestrian relief area in the 5600 block of Pioneer Street.
Tudor said he had been out there protesting for several days, and that a group of protesters was approached on the first day by another officer — Brooks.
Brooks said he had approached the protesters several times and told them “how proud I was of them using their voice.”
“We are very supportive of people’s right to free speech, and we think it’s important that they are out there at this time,” he said.
Still, he said it was dangerous for people to stand in the middle of the road, even in the pedestrian relief area.
Both Brooks and Tudor told The Columbian that Brooks had expressed concerns for Tudor’s safety and the safety of passing drivers. Tudor asked if it was legal to stand there, at which time he was not ordered from the area.
Following that initial encounter, Tudor said he continued to stand in the pedestrian relief area while protesting.
Then, on Sunday, Ferriss was driving through the area when he saw a small group of protesters, including Tudor, standing on the pedestrian island. Citing safety concerns, he asked the group to move to the sidewalk, according to Brooks. The group, except for Tudor, complied.
Video clips shared by Tudor show him speaking with Ferriss. Another man, presumably Tudor’s father, is also seen at one point during the police encounter.
In one of the clips, Ferriss asks Tudor to move from the roadway to the sidewalk. Tudor explains that another officer previously told him he could stand there, and he asks what law he is breaking.
In another clip, the officer is heard saying that passing drivers may take their hands off the wheel to raise them in support, and states Tudor is creating a safety hazard.
“You’re free to demonstrate on the sidewalk; that’s public right of way,” Ferriss says.
Tudor asks for Ferriss’ supervisor, Brooks, and Ferriss offers to call him.
But Ferriss eventually tells Tudor he’s not going to argue with him and that he can either move to the sidewalk or be arrested for disorderly conduct.
According to the police report, Tudor moved to the sidewalk, and Ferriss left. Ferriss returned to the area about an hour later to check on things and observed Tudor marching across the street in the crosswalk.
Video shows Tudor crossing, while a woman, who’s also protesting, stands on the pedestrian island.
“I just felt that, as I was told I was allowed to stand there and it was my First Amendment right, and when the other officer tried infringing on my rights, I continued to exercise them by walking in the … designated area,” Tudor said.
Brooks said Tudor crossing the road was causing vehicles to suddenly stop. When Tudor failed to stay on the sidewalk, he was cited, he said.
“This action had nothing to do with inhibiting Mr. Tudor’s freedom of speech but was a last resort based on his unwillingness to stop obstructing vehicle traffic and creating a dangerous situation,” Brooks said in the statement.
To avoid future confusion about where it’s safe to walk in that area, Brooks said “the city will provide clear and reasonable guidelines.”
He and city leaders also want to continue conversations with Tudor and the community at large, he said.
“If we talk and listen, my sense is we both want the same things for our community,” Brooks said in the statement.