Two journalists for the Huffington Post and The Washington Post have been charged with trespassing and interfering with a police officer nearly a year after being detained during the Ferguson riots. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 11 reporters were detained in Ferguson last year while several other journalists reported being shot with police tear gas and rubber bullets. The CPJ is condemning this judicial intimidation and calling for these charges to be dropped immediately.
Four days after Officer Darren Wilson gunned down 18-year-old Michael Brown, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post were covering the protests and violence erupting across Ferguson, Missouri. Several reporters had been using the McDonald’s located a few blocks from the scene of Brown’s death to access WiFi and recharge their electronic devices. While charging his phone on August 13, 2014, Lowery noticed police officers in uniforms and riot gear enter.
Officers requested to see their identification before ordering Lowery and Reilly to leave. While recording the officer with his cell phone in one hand, Lowery began packing his notebook and pens with his other hand. As one officer instructed Lowery to exit to his left, another officer blocked his path and ordered him to go another way. When Lowery’s backpack began to slip off his shoulder and he asked to retrieve it, multiple officers grabbed him.
“My hands are behind my back,” Lowery told them. “I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting.” At which point one officer said: “You’re resisting. Stop resisting.”
After slamming Lowery into a soda machine, which set off the Coke dispenser, they placed him in plastic cuffs and escorted him out the door. On his way out Lowery asked Reilly to tweet about his arrest, but Reilly was arrested along with him. After being briefly detained, Lowery and Reilly were released without charges. The Ferguson Police Department refused to provide the names or badge numbers of the officers who had detained them.
“You know you always see cops yelling, ‘stop resisting, stop resisting,’ and that’s something that happened here – but I wasn’t resisting,” Reilly told the Huffington Post last year. “This is just something that these cops yelled no matter what you were doing. I let my arms go limp…wasn’t trying to resist anything.”
According to the CPJ, at least 11 reporters were detained in Ferguson last year between August 13 and 19. On August 18, 2014, Ryan Devereaux of The Intercept and Lukas Hermsmeier, a German reporter for Bild, were shot with rubber bullets and arbitrarily detained. Photographer Scott Olson from Getty Images, Kerry Picket from Breitbart News, and two German reporters for Die Welt, Ansgar Graw and Frank Hermann, were also detained and released without charges.
Instead of allowing the one-year statute of limitations to expire, St. Louis County prosecutors recently charged Lowery and Reilly with trespassing on private property and interfering with a police officer. According to The Washington Post, Lowery has been ordered to appear in a St. Louis County municipal court on August 24, and he could be arrested if he does not appear. Reilly has received a similar summons. If convicted, they each face up to a year in jail.
“A crime was committed at the McDonald’s, not by journalists, but by local police who assaulted both Ryan and Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post during violent arrests,” Ryan Grim, the Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief, and Sam Stein, HuffPost’s senior politics editor, wrote in a statement on Monday. “If Wesley Lowery and Ryan J. Reilly can be charged like this with the whole country watching, just imagine what happens when nobody is.”
Earlier this month, a journalist arrested during the November protests in Ferguson settled a civil rights lawsuit against St. Louis County. Trey Yingst, a reporter with online site News2Share, was arrested and charged with unlawful assembly, failure to obey a lawful order, and interfering with the duties of a police officer. St. Louis County eventually agreed to drop the charges against Yingst and paid him $8,500 to settle the lawsuit.
“U.S. authorities have no business hauling reporters into court for doing their jobs, especially on a world story like Ferguson,” stated CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We are appalled by this judicial intimidation of Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly and call on St. Louis authorities to drop all charges immediately.”