St. Louis County Still Considering Bringing Trespassing Charges Against Journalists Police Arrested In Ferguson

from the that-would-be-a-bad-idea dept

One of the side stories over the Ferguson protests from last summer was the fact that the over-aggressive militarized police went in and arrested journalists who were covering the events in Ferguson. Two of the first journalists arrested were Ryan Reilly of Huffington Post and Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post. At the time, we highlighted how they had tweeted the lead up to their own arrests:

A third reporter, Matt Pearce from the LA Times witnesses some of what happened and called the police chief — and was told that it was all a mistake and that he had ordered the reporters released. After being released, Lowery and Reilly talked more about the ridiculousness of being arrested for, essentially, not getting out of the McDonalds fast enough:

Given all that, you might think the local police would let the matter drop (though, if I were Lowery or Reilly I’m not sure I would have let them just drop it…). But, no, apparently the St. Louis County police are now debating whether to bring trespassing charges against the two reporters:

St. Louis County prosecutors will soon decide whether to bring trespassing charges against two journalists arrested while covering demonstrations last summer in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Huffington Post?s Ryan Reilly and The Washington Post?s Wesley Lowery recently learned that there are open investigations related to their Aug. 13, 2014, arrests and that the cases have been referred to the county counselor’s office, which primarily handles local ordinance violations. The St. Louis County Police Department filed incident reports in late April of this year describing the reporters as trespassing when they were seized at a McDonald’s restaurant.

I’m trying to envision a scenario where this whole thing doesn’t backfire in a ridiculous way for the St. Louis County police and prosecutors, and I’m struggling to find any possible way for them not to come out of this looking absolutely terrible. Both Lowery and Reilly are quick to point out how ridiculous the whole thing is:

“Ryan and I have maintained from day one that our detention was unwarranted, unnecessary and illegal,” Lowery said in an email. “The idea that the prosecutor?s office would consider bringing formal charges in this incident is ludicrous. Officials in St. Louis County should drop this matter, release the relevant documents and allow us all to move on with our lives and onto more important elements of this story.”

“Wesley and I did nothing wrong in this scenario, which occurred shortly after officers with the St. Louis County Police Department trained sniper rifles at a crowd of peaceful protesters in broad daylight,” Reilly said in an email.

The article linked above notes that both reporters have continued their investigations into their own arrests, and have faced stonewalling at every turn, including police trying to deny their requests to find out the names of the officers who assaulted and arrested them. Moving forward with actual bogus “trespassing” charges would be not just adding insult to injury, but would, once again, call the world’s gaze to St. Louis County and whatever the hell it is they call “justice” down there.

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Comments on “St. Louis County Still Considering Bringing Trespassing Charges Against Journalists Police Arrested In Ferguson”

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Former ST. Louis Resident (profile) says:

Having formerly lived in St. Louis...

…I can say that you will never lose money betting on the utter stupidity of the St. Louis County politicians (which, of course, includes the County Prosecutors). One can also usually safely bet money safely that any random cop has a 50/50 chance of being someone who can’t handle even the remotest hint that he might not be god incarnate without flying into an absolute rage.

I fully expect the prosecutors and police to pursue this. I fully expect them to look like morons doing it. I fully expect the County to have to pay out taxpayer money to the reporters at the end of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just seems like St. Louis can’t get enough bad publicity and apparently haven’t had enough federal oversight yet. Were I the two reporters, I would be eyewitness testimony for national print runs on the circumstances. If you are going to have to deal with this sort of corruption, just as well set the turkeys up for the fall.

TasMot (profile) says:

The reporters need to keep quiet for a little while. They can’t even get the names of the officers that “charged” them with the crimes (I mean assaulted them). If the county prosecutors are actually stupid to file court charges, at some point they are going to have to name the officers. At that point, the false arrest and illegal detention charges can be filed against those officers.

Just let that hubris and prosecutorial stupidity run rampant just a little longer.

tqk (profile) says:

Now they're at war with journalists too?

The article linked above notes that both reporters have continued their investigations into their own arrests, and have faced stonewalling at every turn, including police trying to deny their requests to find out the names of the officers who assaulted and arrested them.

Well, there you go. A clear case of failing to “Respect mah authoritay!” Perhaps Laura Poitras and EFF would be interested in joining these cases of egregious assault on the Fourth Estate.

This century just keeps on getting sillier.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: I think it's that they got away with a lot of authoratarianism before.

But the internet making all that visible to the public.

To borrow a bit from the Magic-unicorn-key Encryption discussion:

Public: This behavior is too authoritarian. Stop it.

Agents: But we are accustomed behaving this way.

Public: Get accustomed to something else.

Agents: You’re not the boss of me.

Public: Uh, wait. We are.

Agents: No. Not really.

People who have power tend to like it and then go to all lengths to keep it, including getting bathed in widow’s tears and puppy chum by the gentle hands of forsaken children.

DB (profile) says:

Who is pressing charges for trespass?

It’s going to be a curious trespassing charge. It’s a restaurant that was open to the public during posted hours, they were willingly served food, and there is no indication that there was a complaint by the property owner/tenant.

Presumably they would be charged under Missouri Section 569.140.2, which doesn’t clearly apply. Missouri Section 569.150.2, second degree trespass, is more general but changes the wording to simply “enters unlawfully”, dropping “knowingly remains”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Who is pressing charges for trespass?

“knowingly remains unlawfully”…

As you say, there would have to be some determination that “remains unlawfully” was in effect. Since it wasn’t posted (2 (2) ), the only excuse that could remain is “communicated to the actor”, and they’d have to convince a judge that a law enforcement officer could have that authority.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Who is pressing charges for trespass?

The prosecution could argue that the whole area was a “special law enforcement zone” and that fact was enough for the journalists to be in a “knowingly remains unlawfully” state of trespassing.

I would love for them to try that as I didn’t see anyone arresting and charging the McD’s workers.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Re: Who is pressing charges for trespass?

Wouldn’t that be dangerously close to, if not arguably a, violation of the rarely invoked Third Amendment?

How many Amendments did they violate (or try to) when all Hell broke loose because the cops couldn’t control themselves? The Bill of Rights is there ESPECIALLY for those situations.

David says:

Trespassing charges?

So were they trespassing in a McDonalds where they bought food or trespassing in the police cars where they were detained?

Either option sounds equally likely to make sense to a St. Louis County prosecutor. If I remember correctly, it was also here where a reporter on a tree or other elevated point was arrested because of not obeying an order to “disperse”, a feat quite difficult to perform for a single person as a court subsequently found.

Anonymous Coward says:

Former St. Louis resident here too. Missouri is a god forsaken hellhole

Stupid unions: My brother-in-law and sister were harassed by idiot bricklayer goons for help a friend brick his house.

Stupid quid-pro-quid thought process: When the company I was working for was being taken over I offered to help do some extra work to ease things and the response was “what do you want in return”. Nothing bitch, was just being friendly.

Stupid people walking down the middle of the street all.the.time: Seriously. It is a thing. I got so tired of it.

Stupid vehicle inspections: you know for s-a-f-e-t-y. right.

Stupid City of St. Louis tax: yeah, they taxed your payroll check for having a job within the city limits.

Stupid traffic snarls: If you were not on your way out of the city by 3:30 / 4:00 PM during the week. Game over. You get to waste an hour of your life looking at blinking red lights.

Ladue: nuff said.

btr1701 (profile) says:


Since the McDonald’s is not public property, it’s legally absurd that the city could charge a customer with trespassing without the cooperation of the restaurant. Otherwise, all the reporters would have to do is call the manager to the stand and have him testify, “No, I didn’t ask them to leave and they were not trespassing in my restaurant.”

Case dismissed.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

“The security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone, Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.”
– U.S. District Judge Murray Gurfein

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