Washington, D.C., November 8, 2022 — Authorities in Pike County, Ohio, should immediately drop all charges against journalist Derek Myers and return equipment seized from Myers and his newsroom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
The Pike County Sheriff charged Myers, editor-in-chief of local news website the Scioto Valley Guardian, with wiretapping on October 31 after his outlet published audio leaked from a murder trial, according to a report by the outlet and Myers, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
On October 28, a Pike County Court judge signed a search warrant, valid for three days, for the Scioto Valley Guardian’s streaming equipment, including a computer, which Myers had used inside the courtroom to live-stream the trial, according to the document reviewed by CPJ. In Ohio, newsgathering and journalistic source material are protected by the state’s shield law and the federal Privacy Protection Act.
The Pike County Sheriff’s office confiscated the outlet’s live-streaming equipment from the murder trial courtroom on November 1 and Myers’ iPhone, which he used for work, on November 2, according to the court documents reviewed by CPJ. The equipment, none of which has been returned, was confiscated after the warrant expired, according to Myers and a copy of the item seizure report, which CPJ reviewed.
“The incompetency of local law enforcement to abide by basic legal proceedings would be comical if it were not so concerning,” said CPJ U.S. and Canada Program Coordinator Katherine Jacobsen. “Not only have Pike County authorities confiscated journalist Derek Myers’ cellphone and the Scioto Valley Guardian’s laptop without presenting a valid warrant, but they have also lobbed wiretapping charges against Myers for keeping the community informed about an ongoing murder trial. Retaliating against a news outlet, especially a small local publication, for doing their jobs in matters of public interest is completely unacceptable.”
Myers is accused of wiretapping, a fourth-degree felony, under 2933.51(A)(3) of the Ohio Revised Code, according to the charge document reviewed by CPJ. A fourth-degree felony carries a penalty of six to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
On November 1, Myers turned himself in to authorities and posted a $20,000 bail in less than an hour, he said.
On November 3, a Pike County Court judge set bond conditions for Myers, including obeying all media rules when covering the murder trial; having no contact with the murder trial’s defendant; and refraining from consuming alcohol or frequenting establishments that serve alcohol, including steakhouses, according to pre-conviction release papers reviewed by CPJ.
Myers told CPJ that he estimates the Scioto Valley Guardian is losing $500 every day they are unable to live-stream the trial.
The Pike County Sheriff’s office did not respond to CPJ’s voicemail seeking comment.