Iowa jury acquits journalist of riot charge
Perhaps as a coda to the Trump era, the repression of journalists in a democracy got at least one setback.
An Iowa jury acquitted a journalist on Wednesday in a highly unusual trial of a reporter who was arrested last spring as she covered a protest against racism and police violence.
Andrea Sahouri, a public safety reporter for The Des Moines Register, was arrested May 31 while covering a sometimes chaotic demonstration near the Merle Hay mall in downtown Des Moines. Police ordered protesters to disperse and used pepper spray against them. Ms. Sahouri, who said she identified herself as a reporter, was arrested along with her then-boyfriend, Spenser Robnett, who had accompanied her that day.
Ms. Sahouri, 25, pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges of failing to disperse and interference with official acts, each punishable by up to 30 days in jail. On Wednesday, a six-person jury found Ms. Sahouri and Mr. Robnett not guilty of both charges.
“I’m thankful to the jury for doing the right thing,” Ms. Sahouri said in a statement after the verdict. “Their decision upholds freedom of the press and justice in our democracy.”She also thanked everyone who had supported her, including her friends, family members and her colleagues at The Register and the paper’s parent company, Gannett.
Carol Hunter, executive editor of The Register, said on Wednesday that she was grateful the jury saw the case as an unjust prosecution of a reporter doing her job.
An Iowa jury acquitted a journalist on Wednesday in a highly unusual trial of a reporter who was arrested last spring as she covered a protest against racism and police violence. https://t.co/iT19HS7Bkw
— NYT Business (@nytimesbusiness) March 10, 2021
Advocates and legal experts have said that the charges were not dropped and the case has gone to trial is rare in the United States.
On Tuesday, Carol Hunter, the Register’s executive editor, testified that Sahouri was doing her job that day and had been working with editors not on the scene to determine where she should be positioned. She said Sahouri did not violate any Des Moines Register policy the night of her arrest.
Sahouri was not wearing a press credential at the time of her arrest, but there is no formal press credential that Sahouri could have been issued, Hunter added.
Jurors also heard testimony Monday and Tuesday from other police officers who responded to the protest.
While other officer had activated their bodycams to record footage of their interactions with the public, Wilson did not. The officer explained he mistakenly thought he had pressed the record button but realized some time after that he had not. The video was not preserved before it was overwritten.
Sgt. Natale Chiodo, whose body camera footage was shown, had responded along with Wilson to the area where Sahouri was arrested.
"We respect the jury’s decision, and the time and effort they dedicated to this trial," a Des Moines Police Department spokesman tells me via email. https://t.co/zuSgoZ9QWK
— Elahe Izadi | الهه (@ElaheIzadi) March 10, 2021
(Photo credit: Ted Nieters/Polaris Images) pic.twitter.com/sUkjJHQ4gg
— Andrea May Sahouri (@andreamsahouri) March 10, 2021