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

CPJ strongly condemns trespassing conviction of Asheville Blade reporters in North Carolina

Washington, D.C, June 16, 2023—In response to the Friday, June 16, jury decision finding Asheville Blade reporters Matilda Bliss and Veronica Coit guilty of trespassing while covering police activity, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:

“We are gravely concerned by the jury’s guilty verdict in the trial of Asheville Blade reporters Matilda Bliss and Veronica Coit,” said Katherine Jacobsen, CPJ’s U.S. and Canada program coordinator. “The two journalists should never have been on trial. They were performing a public service and recording police activity. Their conviction is a blatant violation of their First Amendment rights, and their convictions set an unsettling precedent for journalists in Asheville and the nation.”

The journalists were fined $100 plus court costs, and their lawyer filed an appeal. At the time of their December 25, 2021, arrests, Coit and Bliss were covering the clearing of a homeless encampment in Asheville, North Carolina.

Other press freedom and free expression groups, including the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the ACLU, and Reporters Without Borders, also condemned the ruling.

They were convicted of trespassing in a bench trial on April 19, 2023, and both journalists were ordered to pay a $25 fine and court costs. Coit was handed an additional 10-day suspended prison sentence and one year of probation. They appealed for a jury trial after the conviction.