Six journalists, including a freelance photographer and a documentary producer, are facing felony rioting charges following their arrests while covering protests during the presidential inauguration, The Guardian has reported. If convicted, the journalists face up to ten years in jail and fines of up to $25,000.
Journalists arrested at the January 20 protests in Washington, DC include Shay Horse, identified by The Guardian as an independent photojournalist and activist; Jack Keller, a documentary producer; Evan Engel of Vocativ; Alex Rubinstein of RT America; independent journalist Matt Hopard, who was live-streaming the protests; and Aaron Cantú, a freelance journalist.
None of the arrest reports include specific allegations against any of the journalists, according to The Guardian. Five of the six arrest reports include a general allegation that “numerous crimes were occurring in police presence.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists has called the charges “clearly inappropriate” and called on city prosecutors to drop the charges. “We are concerned they could send a chilling message to journalists covering future protests,” the CPJ says.
The journalists were arrested near 12th and L Streets along with dozens of other people, after police “kettled” [corralled and contained] them and used pepper spray and flash grenades to subdue them. The mass arrests appeared to be in response to the acts of a few individuals who concealed their identities while breaking windows and committing other acts of vandalism.
Keller told The Guardian he was arrested and detained for 36 hours despite telling police he was covering the protests as a journalist. He denies having anything to do with the vandalism, The Guardian says.
The journalists face court hearings on various dates in February and March.
Meanwhile, a DC attorney, acting on behalf of a Colorado attorney and others at the protest, has filed a class action lawsuit against the Washington, DC police officers and U.S. Park Service officers. The lawsuit alleges “unreasonable and excessive” force against protesters, according to Politico.com.
The suit alleges that the officers “kettle[d] not only protesters who had engaged in no criminal conduct, but also members of the media, attorneys, legal observers and medics.” The officers then “proceeded to indiscriminately and repeatedly deploy chemical irritants, attack the individuals with batons, and throw flash-bang grenades at the kettled individuals” for “no legitimate law enforcement reason,” the lawsuit says.
The National Lawyers’ Guild has also accused the Washington, DC police of “indiscriminately targeting people for arrest en masse based on location alone” and for unlawful use of teargas and other weapons, according to The Guardian.
According to the Politico.com report, Washington DC paid more than $12 million to settle several lawsuits over alleged police misconduct against protesters in 2002 during an International Monetary Fund meeting.
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