Trial Set To Start For Journalist Facing Decades In Prison For Covering Inauguration Day Protests
from the shut-up,-they-jailed dept
There’s little more chilling to First Amendment freedoms than the possibility of spending decades in jail for documenting a protest that turned into a riot. But that’s exactly what independent journalist Alexi Wood is facing. Traveling from Texas to Washington DC to document anti-Trump protests on Inauguration Day, Wood was “kettled” and arrested along with the protestors he was covering. He wasn’t the only journalist to be detained for hours and hit with charges, but most of the others have seen their charges dismissed.
Wood is facing charges that could see him jailed for several years, thanks to DC prosecutors who have decided to punish the journalist for being in the vicinity of destructive criminal activity.
Alexei Wood faces up to 60 years in prison for moving alongside and videotaping rioters as they protested President Donald Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. According to Wood, he was livestreaming the protest – videotaping events and putting them on the internet as they happened.
He said the livestream is still online, and shows he did nothing wrong.
“It documents everything I said or didn’t say, do or didn’t do – clear evidence,” Wood said. “Even the judge said there was ‘zero evidence’ I did property destruction.”
Wood is one of seven journalists who, with a group of more than 200 protesters, were penned in and arrested that day. Charges against five of the journalists have been dropped.
Indeed, his livestream of the events leading to his arrest can be seen below, and nothing in it shows him participating in destructive acts.
But that matters little to DC prosecutors, who have decided to threaten the act of journalism by creatively stacking charges.
[O]n April 27, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia returned a superseding indictment which added additional charges for some 212 defendants, three of whom had not previously been charged.
With new felony charges including urging to riot, conspiracy to riot and destruction of property, many of the defendants are facing up to 80 years in prison. Many other defendants, among them journalists, are facing more than 70 years.
When a “conspiracy to riot” describes the act of documenting a riot, things have gone horribly south in the legal system. It’s not like the government is facing a lack of chargeable suspects. There are more than 200 to choose from, with a majority of those being participants in the demonstration. A smaller number participated in the destruction of property. Then there’s Alexi Wood, who was in the right place at the right time journalistically-speaking, but the wrong place/wrong time for everything else.
The only explanation for this charge stacking is prosecutors’ desire for easy wins. Piling up felony charges pushes people towards accepting plea deals, even if they haven’t done anything wrong. A couple of misdemeanors and being free to go usually sounds better than a criminal trial and the possibility of a jury handing down a guilty verdict with 15-20 years of jail time attached
If this goes forward, the evidence should clear him of charges. But even if it does go quickly and smoothly, Wood’s life has been permanently changed, and not for the better. He hasn’t been able to concentrate on journalistic efforts since he was arrested, thanks to the severity of the charges. If the government finds a way to hang one on Wood, independent journalists and those working for smaller agencies will start steering clear of protest coverage just to be on the safe side. And that may be the government’s unstated goal — fewer eyes witnessing anti-government sentiment and/or the tactics used by law enforcement against people utilizing their First Amendment rights.