In what Washington Post’s executive editor called “outrageous,” two journalists who traveled to Ferguson, Mo. at the height of protests last year to report have been charged with trespassing and interfering with a police officer’s performance, according to The Huffington Post.
The reporters — Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post and Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post — were arrested on Aug. 13, 2014, just four days after a former Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown Jr. The two were working out of a McDonald’s on West Florissant Avenue (which had become a safe haven during protests) when the officers demanded they leave. According to The Huffington Post, Reilly and Lowery didn’t leave fast enough. At one point, Reilly said a police officer shoved his head against glass during the arrest. Lowery, the Post writes, was pushed into a soda machine.
Reilly and Lowery were arrested and released without charges. But on Monday, Lowery was notified charges were being lodged against him. As of Tuesday, Reilly hadn’t received a similar notice, but the Post writes that a spokesman for the St. Louis County executive confirmed “he will face the same charges.”
Representatives from both publications condemned the incident and offered “full support” to their staff.
“The Huffington Post condemns the charges filed by St Louis County against our Justice Reporter, Ryan Reilly, while covering the protests in Ferguson last year,” Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim said in a statement. “Ryan has the full support of The Huffington Post in fighting these charges,” Grim continued. “Almost a year ago today, Ryan was working on his laptop in a McDonald’s near the protests in Ferguson, Mo.. A crime was committed at the McDonalds, not by journalists, but by local police who assaulted both Ryan and Wes Lowery of The Washington Post during violent arrests. At least we know Ferguson knows how to file charges. If Wes Lowery and Ryan Reilly can be charged like this with the whole country watching, just imagine what happens when nobody is.”
Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron said Monday in a statement that “charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous.”
“You’d have thought law enforcement authorities would have come to their senses about this incident,” Baron said. “Wes Lowery should never have been arrested in the first place. That was an abuse of police authority. This latest action represents contemptible overreaching by prosecutors who seem to have no regard for the role of journalists seeking to cover a major story and following normal practice.”
Reporters and photojournalists covering Ferguson during the uprising last year were often told to move along or were detained for doing their job — a clear violation of their rights. In fact, Lowery and Reilly were under the impression that their trouble with the police was a thing of the past.
The decision to charge Reilly and Lowery now is especially surprising, given that St. Louis County settled just last week with two other journalists arrested while reporting in Ferguson.
Until recently, Reilly and Lowery believed their incidents with police were long over with. The Huffington Post reported last month that the St. Louis County Police Department filed incident reports in late April describing the two reporters as trespassing in the McDonald’s. Police referred their cases to the St. Louis County counselor’s office, which, given a one-year statute of limitations, had until Thursday to bring charges.
Lowery, who in an email statement to The Huffington Post Monday said he was formerly convinced St. Louis officials had “come to their senses” about violating their constitutional right to do their job, is due to appear in court on Aug. 24, where he plans to “happily explain” just that.
SOURCE: The Huffington Post | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty