Reporter Indicted For Covering Trump Inauguration Protests
from the free-press? dept
Back in January, we noted that six journalists had been arrested while covering protests in Washingto DC on inauguration day. It is troubling enough that this kind of thing has been happening with increasing frequency in the past few years (a bunch of journalists were arrested while covering the Ferguson protests, for example). And as bad (and unconstitutional) as it is to arrest these journalists, usually any charges are soon dropped. However, it appears that at least one of the reporters arrested for covering inauguration protests, Aaron Cantu of the Santa Fe Reporter, has now been indicted with prosecutors accusing him of participating in violence related to the protests:
Aaron Cant?, a staff writer at the Santa Fe Reporter, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he participated in a riot while working as a journalist during protests in Washington, DC on Inauguration Day.
Cant? faces eight felony counts?including inciting a riot, rioting, conspiracy to riot and five counts of destruction of property. The grand jury handed up the indictment last week.
From the news report, it’s not clear they actually have any evidence that Cantu was engaged in any of the destruction. Indeed, it sounds like he was over with other journalists observing the events (and wiping pepper spray from his eyes):
Cant? was not named specifically by prosecutors as the cause of any of the destruction, as some defendants were. Instead, the indictment named him as being present while the damage happened. The arrests have been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, other civil rights groups and newspapers as overly broad and lacking hard evidence.
Video from the conservative media group The Rebel shows glimpses of Cant? off to the side of the protests with other journalists, washing what appears to be pepper spray from his eyes. He?s standing next to a conservative journalist as she narrates the scene.
The fact that he isn’t named specifically, and that the complaint is just that he was “present” is crazy. Of course he was present. He was doing his job, reporting on protests. Assuming this goes forward, Cantu should have very strong First Amendment defenses, and might consider suing the government for civil liberties violations.
While I’m hardly sympathetic to arguments by law enforcement when they round up large groups of people at protests that it’s difficult for them to determine who’s really a journalist and who is not, at least you can sort of understand how that might happen — even if you disapprove. But once the fog of the moment has passed it is absolutely bizarre for prosecutors to push forward with an indictment against someone who is clearly there as press.