Washington, D.C., August 17, 2020 – Nearly three months after the height of national Black Lives Matter protests, at least six journalists are still facing charges stemming from their coverage, according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists and its partner site, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. CPJ today called on state and municipal authorities to drop those charges and ensure that the press can work freely.
Journalists are facing charges including curfew violations and failure to disperse, stemming from their work covering protests that began in Minneapolis in late May and spread across the country, sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest on May 25. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital. At least four officers have been charged in connection to Floyd’s killing, according to news reports.
“It is absurd that law enforcement officials around the country continue to pursue charges against journalists who were doing their jobs at the time they were arrested,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna. “It’s high time for authorities to drop this pursuit, which is frivolous and wasteful.”
More than 600 attacks against the press during the protests have been reported to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. In many cases, authorities briefly detained journalists and then released them without charge.
As of today, at least six journalists are facing charges for their work:
Ellen Schmidt: The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department arrested Schmidt, a Las Vegas Review-Journal staff photographer, on May 29, and charged her with failure to disperse, a misdemeanor. Schmidt confirmed to CPJ via email that she is still facing charges. A hearing is scheduled for November 25, according to a court document reviewed by CPJ. Misdemeanors in Nevada are punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, according to the state’s legal code.
Bridget Bennett, a freelance photographer working for Agence France-Presse, was arrested alongside Schmidt and was also charged. She did not return CPJ’s emailed request for comment about her case; CPJ could not determine whether the charges against her are still active.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department told CPJ in an emailed statement that the journalists were part of a crowd that failed to heed a police dispersal order.
Mathieu Derrien: Law enforcement officers in Minneapolis arrested Derrien, a videographer for the French TV station TF1, and his colleague Amadine Atalaya, a TF1 correspondent, on May 30. Derrien told CPJ via messaging app that he received a citation for misdemeanor curfew violations at the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility and that, while Atalaya’s charges had been dropped, his had not.
The citation is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 90 days in jail, according to the Minneapolis curfew website.
CPJ emailed the Minneapolis Police Department for comment, which advised CPJ to contact the county attorney’s office. The Hennepin County Attorney’s office told CPJ in an emailed statement that county attorney Mike Freeman “has the highest regard for the work of reporters and would not bring charges against them for doing their jobs.”
[Editors’ note: On August 18, 2020, Derrien shared with CPJ a letter dated August 13 from the Minneapolis deputy city attorney, stating that the charges against him had been dropped. The above paragraph has also been updated with the Hennepin County Attorney’s statement.]
Craig Lassig and Tannen Maury: Law enforcement officers in Minneapolis arrested Lassig, a freelance photographer, and Maury, a European Pressphoto Agency photojournalist, together on May 30. The journalists were taken to the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility and cited with a misdemeanor for breaking the city’s curfew, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 90 days in jail.
Maury told CPJ on August 12 that he had not been notified of a court date. Lasssig told CPJ on August 17 that his court date was in October.
Keith Boykin: The New York Police Department arrested Boykin, a freelance journalist and CNN commentator, and charged him with misdemeanor disorderly conduct on May 30. According to court records that CPJ reviewed, Boykin is due to appear in court on September 25.
Disorderly conduct is punishable by up to 15 days in prison or a fine of up to $250, according to the New York State penal code.
CPJ emailed the NYPD for comment, but did not receive any response.
Andrea Sahouri: Des Moines police arrested Sahouri, a reporter for the Des Moines Register, on May 31. Sahouri was charged with two misdemeanors: failure to disperse, which is punishable by a fine between $65 and $625 or prison in lieu of a fine, and interference with official acts, which carries a fine of at least $250, according to the her employer and Iowa state law. Sahouri has pleaded not guilty, according to the Register.
The next hearing in Sahouri’s case is scheduled for August 27 at 9:30 a.m., according to an employee at the Polk County Criminal Clerks office who answered CPJ’s call but declined to give their name.
CPJ called and emailed the Polk County attorney’s office, but did not receive any response.