St. Louis County Charges Journalists Who Covered Ferguson Protests With Trespassing

from the bad-move dept

Just about a month ago, we noted that prosecutors in St. Louis County were, somewhat ridiculously, still considering charging two reporters, Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post, with "trespassing" charges for their coverage of the Ferguson protests. As you may recall, we also wrote about when they were first arrested, as they were gathering up their things in the local McDonald's after the police ordered them to leave. Here were their tweets at the time -- along with the tweets of a few other reporters on the scene, including one in which police admitted the arrest was a mistake:
Another reporter, Matt Pearce from the LA Times, reached out to the police, who seemed to indicate that the arrests had been a mistake (and from the descriptions offered by Reilly and Lowery, that sounds about right). Lowery and Reilly were then released and told that no charges would be filed against reporters.
And yet... prosecutors have decided to move forward with the lawsuit, charging at least Lowery with trespassing (Reilly has not officially yet been informed that he's been sued too, but he expects to be shortly -- and a reporter has confirmed from the county that Reilly faces similar charges).
A court summons dated Aug. 6 — just under a year after Lowery’s arrest — was sent to Lowery, 25, ordering him to appear in a St. Louis County municipal court on Aug. 24. The summons notes that he could be arrested if he does not appear.

“Charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous,” Martin Baron, executive editor of The Post, said in a statement Monday. “You’d have thought law enforcement authorities would have come to their senses about this incident. Wes Lowery should never have been arrested in the first place. That was an abuse of police authority.
Meanwhile, it seems noteworthy that this comes just days after St. Louis County "settled" a lawsuit filed against it by another journalist, Trey Yingst, who had been arrested while covering protests in Ferguson in November. In that case, the county agreed to pay Yingst $8,500 and drop all charges... and evidence showed that the police flat-out lied about why they had detained Yingst -- using the same excuse they had used against Lowery and Reilly.

A Reason magazine reporter, along with other witnesses, also supported Yingst’s account. And video of the incident, posted that night on Twitter, shows police in skirmish formation approaching Yingst on the sidewalk. 

The St. Louis County Police Department, however, tweeted after the incident that Yingst was detained for “failure to disperse” and had “refused” orders from commanding officers to leave the street. A police report echoes the description of events in that tweet.

In the police department’s account, Yingst was standing in the street with protesters and impeding the flow of traffic when ordered to move to the sidewalk. It was then that Vollmer ordered Yingst -- three times, by his account -- to return to the sidewalk. But Yingst refused to do so, according to the report, and only “slowly walked backwards onto the sidewalk” as the police formation approached. 

“The whole police report was basically made up,” Yingst said.

Given that, you would think that prosecutors would shy away from immediately going after journalists where there was pretty strong evidence that they, too, were detained for bogus reasons, but apparently "reason" doesn't exist in the prosecutor's office in St. Louis County. I would imagine that both Lowery and Reilly will have pretty strong defenses, and that St. Louis County may end up handing over more taxpayer funds to both of them before this is over. Also, Reilly says he's spent the last year trying to find out the name of the St. Louis County police officer who slammed his head into the wall -- and figures that now that he's being charged, he might actually be able to find out who it was.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 5:19am

    "Probably didn't know any better"

    These are the people who are charged with enforcing our laws. They should all absolutely know BEST.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 11:56am

      Re:

      they are not YOUR laws... they are the STATES laws that you and other statists believe in, forcing the rest of us to live under an illusory authority that you grace with a monopoly on violence.

      ...but you need these laws to build your roads.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 5:28am

    Why charges now? Sorta late to the party - no?

    Cops: We don't like our illegal activities being made public knowledge - ya hear?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 5:50am

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Aug 11th, 2015 @ 5:28am

      I figure the statute of limitations are about to kick in. Prosecuters can't let criminal trespassers go about willy nilly. I guess the clerk should have read the reports before getting things signed off for processing.

      Not to negate the officer's actions to kickstart this whole debacle.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 8:09am

        Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Aug 11th, 2015 @ 5:28am

        or they have delayed it long enough that the statue of limitations will be up on the officer who slammed his head into the wall by the time he finds the name.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Sunhawk, 11 Aug 2015 @ 1:44pm

          Re: Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Aug 11th, 2015 @ 5:28am

          I donno - I suspect the statute of limitations for assault and battery might be a touch longer then that for a trespassing lawsuit.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        corey, 8 May 2016 @ 7:29pm

        Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Aug 11th, 2015 @ 5:28am

        look into prosecutors conflict of interest and incentives in getting higher conviction ratings. This will better explain why they are prosecuting a year later. They delayed to try and find evidence they can use against the journalists, whether real or made up evidence or circumstantial.

        they also waited a year, to be safely outside the statute of limitation in regards to retaliatory rules. If they charged them to close to time they were let go, and found that journalists did nothing wrong. The journalist would have solid case of retaliation by government officials.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 7:42am

      Re:

      "Cops: We don't like our illegal activities being made public knowledge - ya hear?"

      If they have nothing to hide ...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John William Nelson (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 5:30am

    Wow-prosecutors should be sacked

    What are the prosecutors doing here? I hope this goes Streisand on them, especially after the 1 year anniversary of the shooting just passed.

    Note to self: Avoid St. Louis, period. The rules of law and common sense do not apply there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gothenem (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 5:38am

      Re: Wow-prosecutors should be sacked

      "Re: Wow-prosecutors should be sacked"

      And the people responsible for hiring the people who have just been sacked, should also be sacked.

      Ni.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 7:27am

      Re: Wow-prosecutors should be sacked

      Nonono. What should happen, right, is they should let the lunatics onto the police force!

      There is no way that crazy people could possibly do a worse job than those in power in the St. Louis PD.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Avatar28 (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 7:37am

        Re: Re: Wow-prosecutors should be sacked

        Nonono. What should happen, right, is they should let the lunatics onto the police force!


        Uh, I think it may be too late. That ship has done sailed.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 5:39am

    Win or Lose they do not care, they have learnt the lesson taught by the RIAA/MPAA, tying people up in court punishes them for non-compliance with their demands.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 1:30pm

      Winning in court isn't the goal

      Nailed it in one.

      The point isn't to win in court, it's to show that anyone that refuses to properly grovel, and especially anyone that makes them look bad, will be run through the wringer. It's to show what happens to people that they don't like, and make it abundantly clear that they don't mind losing in court if that's what it takes to 'punish' people. Why should they after all, even if they lose it's not like they are the ones paying out.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 1:54pm

        Making a counterexample

        Any chance this could result in a purge of the precinct brass and DA's office?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 2:39pm

          Re: Making a counterexample

          By who? I doubt the police are desperate enough for a scapegoat that they'd be willing to offer up one of the brass, and who exactly would have the guts to go after anyone in the DA's office?

          No. While a nice idea, there is about a zero to nill chance that this would result in anyone but the reporters facing any real negative consequences.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Uriel-238 (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 3:42pm

            In my fantasies...

            A presiding judge who can no longer contain his digust about being part of this justice system demands a blood sacrifice from St. Louis County police and from the DA who elected to prosecute.

            In reality this will get cataloged in the minds of angry people across the US and will contribute to the sum of outrage that causes one to pop off, travel somewhere and shoot some officers that had nothing to do with this case.

            I truly hope I'm being overly cynical.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Quiet Lurcker, 11 Aug 2015 @ 5:57am

    Learn something new....

    I've heard of method acting, but method stupidity is a new one on me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 5:57am

    after having an officer get away with what really was nothing but murder, the police and prosecutors obviously think they are on a roll and get away with far lesser incidents totally unscathed. i just hope that some sense comes into play pretty quickly and if not, the papers concerned use any and all evidence they can muster, along with very expensive and experienced lawyers to swat these cases down!
    however, with the events continuing as they are within Ferguson, there could be more charges against more people on the anniversary of that fateful day. one person according to news reports, has been shot already. perhaps what the police etc are really trying to do is just whatever the hell they want but not have anything reported??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 6:39am

    Even assuming that they were trespassing, this is incredibly stupid. The entire riot/protest was a result of over aggressive policing and a failure of the police to know when to descalate the situation. (Protests over excessive force are met by police by a massive show of force and zero compassion).

    They have obviously learned very little. They are just doubling down on excessive and intimidating policing. This one, they are very unlikely to win either in the courts or in the court of public opinion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    lars626 (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 6:42am

    Tresspass

    Did anyone from McDonald's file a complaint? Can it actually be trespassing if the property owner does not consider it to be trespassing?

    Do we know yet who the cop was that filed the report?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 6:47am

    "...move forward with the lawsuit..."
    A 'lawsuit' is a civil proceeding. Isn't this a criminal misdemeanor charge?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 6:52am

    You know the governments knows they're doing the wrong things when reporters are being intimidated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 11 Aug 2015 @ 6:55am

    My Thought Too

    In what way does the prosecutor get to charge anyone with trespassing on private property if the owner fails to complain? I'm guessing McDonalds is not pressing a complaint, in fact quite the opposite, I would be surprised if a large corporation with a concern about bad publicity would not state outright that they had no problem allowing the journalists to be present.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 7:27am

      Re: My Thought Too

      The individual franchise owner might be pressing the charge.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Avatar28 (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 7:40am

        Re: Re: My Thought Too

        That's possible, assuming it is a franchise and not a corporate-owned location. However I would think that a) he would still be concerned about bad publicity given that the McDonalds is in the area of the protests and thus most of his customers would be too and b) McDonalds corporate office would lean on him heavily because of the bad publicity it would bring them, possibly it could even be a violation of the franchise agreement.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Vidiot (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 7:48am

      Re: My Thought Too

      Sure would be great to have McDonalds come out and say, "Hey, they were welcome to be there. They weren't trespassing." Hold idiocy up to the strong light of day...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 8:16am

        Re: Re: My Thought Too

        Conversely, if the manager had told them "you need to get out" and they ignored him, the trespassing charges are totally appropriate, and they don't get a pass just because they are reporters. I don't think I've heard anything definitive on whether or not that happened.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 10:55am

          Re: Re: Re: My Thought Too

          Yes - and let's just assume it did happen until otherwise proven. Amirite?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 12:52pm

          Re: Re: Re: My Thought Too

          The manager talking to the journalists, who were still finishing their food, is conspicuously absent from all accounts of the incident.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 7:53am

      Re: My Thought Too

      Maybe they broke the 5th amendment and decided they owned that mc donalds for the duration thus anyone there that they did not like was trespassing, and being charged under the assumption no one looks at their illegal behavior to justify a trespassing charge

      I get the feeling the police know the law they just choose not to follow it as they know they will not be called out on it

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    dakre (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 7:06am

    *Sarcasm* Note to self, don't walk on the sidewalk...or go to St Louis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 7:41am

    Intimidation tactics while they conviently forget the laws that protect these journalists

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gwiz (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 8:22am

    Trespassing?

    How is this trespassing at all? Where I live, if you operate an establishment that is open to the public, like a restaurant or a store, it can only be trespassing if the establishment owner or their representative has asked you to leave and you refuse to do so.

    Did the McDonald's manager or employees ask the reporters to leave? If it was just the police telling them to leave I don't see how that could be considered trespassing at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 9:26am

      Re: Trespassing?

      ...it can only be trespassing if the establishment owner or their representative has asked you to leave and you refuse to do so...


      In my neighborhood repeated refusal to leave can get you arrested and charged with burglary, not just trespassing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Craig Welch (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 8:43am

    Failure to disperse

    "Yingst was detained for “failure to disperse” which is ridiculous in itself. One person cannot disperse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 8:53am

    Why do we let police get away with this shit? We are sheep. God damn sheep.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 1:04pm

      Letting the police get away with this.

      Let's use a better metaphor. We're not sheep.

      We're hostages.

      There's fifty of us (or so) and about five bank robbers with big guns.

      They don't control the situation by moral authority, or righteousness, but by the fact they have big guns. And if you do anything to piss them off, they'll totally shoot you.

      When they're not watching you, you might have an opportunity to turn the situation around, to do something that destabilizes their stranglehold.

      I'm not going to blame you for not acting. Big guns in my face freak me out too. In the meantime they keep promising that they're not after our money, just the bank's and that if we cooperate with them, everyone will live. I'm not sure I believe them, especially after one of them took a hostage's Twinkie.

      If we could coordinate and mob them, we could totally overwhelm them. But some of us are going to die, especially the first ones who take action.

      And no-one outside the bank seems to know or care. It's up to us.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 9:13am

    They need to fire all police in Ferguson and the DA's.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2015 @ 10:58am

    And what happens when a heavily armed group walks the streets of Ferguson at night?

    Nothing, because they're white

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 1:12pm

      Some day this nation will have to choose...

      ...whether we want to keep our freedom or our white male pride.

      Right now the white male pride is winning.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dirkmaster (profile), 11 Aug 2015 @ 1:39pm

    Gotta say, this prosecutor's got balls

    Or the world's most inflated ego, if he thinks he can go toe to toe with the paid lawyers of the Washington Post (owned by Bezos) and the Huffington Post (owned by AOL). I'm betting that any single lawyer from either of those companies' salaries are greater than St. Louis's entire staff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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