A park near downtown Asheville, North Carolina, as pictured on April 7, 2021. Reporters for the Asheville Blade are facing trespassing charges. (Getty Images via AFP/Brian Blanco)

CPJ calls on North Carolina prosecutors to drop charges against Asheville Blade reporters

New York, November 18, 2022 – Prosecutors in Buncombe County, North Carolina, should immediately drop all charges against Asheville Blade reporters Veronica Coit and Matilda Bliss, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Friday.

Coit and Bliss were arrested while covering a homeless camp eviction in Asheville, North Carolina, on December 25, 2021, and charged with misdemeanor trespassing, according to court records and Asheville Blade editor David Forbes, who spoke with CPJ via phone. Their bench trial is scheduled to begin on Monday, November 21, according to Forbes. 

According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a CPJ partner, the charges carry a penalty of 20 days in jail or a $200 fine. 

“Asheville Blade reporters Veronica Coit and Matilda Bliss were documenting matters of public interest – the removal of a homeless encampment by police – when they were arrested. They should not be prosecuted for simply doing their jobs,” said CPJ U.S. and Canada Program Coordinator Katherine Jacobsen. “It is essential that local reporters are able to cover their communities without authorities infringing on their First Amendment rights.” 

The Buncombe County District Attorney’s office did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment and nobody picked up the phone when CPJ called the office. 

In February, CPJ wrote a letter to Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams asking him to drop the charges. CPJ received no response to that letter. 

[Editor’s note: Matilda Bliss’ name has been updated with the correct spelling.]