WASHINGTON – The News Guild denounced the St. Louis County prosecutor’s criminal charges against the two reporters who were arrested a year ago during the protests against Michael Brown’s death. The charges were filed just before the statute of limitations expired and as police arrested more people in Ferguson.
County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, whom reports criticized for easy treatment of the police officer who shot Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American – charged Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly with trespassing on private property, a local McDonald’s, and interfering with a police officer. Upon conviction, the charges carry $1,000 fines and up to a year in jail.
“The News Guild-CWA joins with other outraged journalists in demanding the St. Louis County prosecutor drop the trumped-up charges against two reporters who were arrested a year ago covering the Ferguson protests,” the union said. Police arrested the two on Aug. 13, 2014, days after Brown was killed.
The shooting of Brown set off a nationwide uproar about police shootings of unarmed African-Americans. Other shootings since have led to more protests and an intense discussion about police-minority relations.
“Lowery and Reilly were doing absolutely nothing wrong when police stormed the McDonald’s restaurant the journalists were using for a reporting base. While attempting to comply with officers’ orders to leave the restaurant, police decided they weren’t acting quickly enough,” the News Guild added.
Initially, after slamming Lowery into a soda machine, and cuffing him, and treating Reilly “like a five-year-old,” officers took them to a police station. They were held there for half an hour, then released with no charges. McCulloch filed the charges against them on Aug. 10, 2015.
His “actions are a gross abuse of power and a vile assault on the 1st Amendment” [Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.] and its constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press, Lunzer said. “We are not politely calling on him to drop these charges; we are demanding it. If he refuses, he will be in for the fight of his life as faces the collective and growing wrath of journalists and free press advocates.”
The editors of the Washington Post and the Huffington Post also defended their reporters, who were incredulous at the prosecutor’s charges. The Washington paper’s legal team is planning Lowery’s defense.
Reilly was expecting the authorities to press charges; Lowery thought it was less likely. When Lowery quipped on Twitter on Monday that “Ryan won,” Reilly replied, “You owe me a Happy Meal.” Lowery told CNN that “we were not in the wrong” on the day of the arrest. Reilly told CNN that the charges are “a distraction from a lot of the key issues,” that Brown’s death raised. “If they’re charging us in this nonsense case, what are they getting away with charging other people with?” he asked.
Photo: This image taken from video provided by Wesley Lowery of Washington Post shows a police officer confronting Lowery in a fast-food restaurant in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 13, 2014. Lowery of Washington Post, and Ryan Reilly of Huffington Post, said they were handcuffed and put into a police van after officers came in to quickly clear the fast-food restaurant where the journalists were doing work while covering the protests. (AP Photo/The Washington Post, Wesley Lowery)