NEW YORK – Reporters from The Huffington Post and Washington Post have been charged with trespassing and interfering with a police officer’s performance, a chilling setback for press freedom coming nearly a year after their arrests in Ferguson, Missouri.
The Huffington Post's Ryan J. Reilly and Washington Post's Wesley Lowery were arrested while working out of a McDonald's on Aug. 13, 2014, just four days after white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
Police claimed the journalists, who were covering the unrest that followed the police killing, didn't leave the restaurant fast enough. Reilly described a police officer shoving his head against glass during his arrest, while Lowery said an officer pushed him into a soda machine. Both Lowery and Reilly were quickly released and not charged with any crime at the time.
The decision to charge Reilly and Lowery now is especially surprising, given that St. Louis County settled just last week with two other journalists arrested while reporting in Ferguson.
Until recently, Reilly and Lowery believed their incidents with police were long over with. The Huffington Post reported last month that the St. Louis County Police Department filed incident reports in late April describing the two reporters as trespassing in the McDonald's. Police referred their cases to the St. Louis County counselor's office, which, given a one-year statute of limitations, had until Thursday to bring charges.
Lowery was notified Monday of the charges against him. Reilly has not yet received notification, but a spokesman for the St. Louis County executive confirmed he will face the same charges.
"The Huffington Post condemns the charges filed by St Louis County against our Justice Reporter, Ryan Reilly, while covering the protests in Ferguson last year," Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim said in a statement.
"Ryan has the full support of The Huffington Post in fighting these charges," Grim continued. "Almost a year ago today, Ryan was working on his laptop in a McDonald's near the protests in Ferguson, Mo.. A crime was committed at the McDonalds, not by journalists, but by local police who assaulted both Ryan and Wes Lowery of The Washington Post during violent arrests. At least we know Ferguson knows how to file charges. If Wes Lowery and Ryan Reilly can be charged like this with the whole country watching, just imagine what happens when nobody is."
Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron said Monday in a statement that "charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous."
"You’d have thought law enforcement authorities would have come to their senses about this incident," Baron said. "Wes Lowery should never have been arrested in the first place. That was an abuse of police authority. This latest action represents contemptible overreaching by prosecutors who seem to have no regard for the role of journalists seeking to cover a major story and following normal practice."
Lowery has been ordered to appear on Aug. 24 in a St. Louis County municipal court, according to the Post, which first reported on the charges. A trespassing conviction can result in up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
In an email Monday to The Huffington Post, Lowery said he had been “convinced the county officials in St. Louis had come to their senses about our illegal detention.”
“Unfortunately I was wrong,” Lowery said. “Ryan and I have maintained for the last 358 days that we were exercising our Constitutionally-guaranteed right to do our jobs, and I will happily explain that in court.”
Earlier On HuffPost:
This article has been updated to note the anticipated charges against HuffPost's Ryan J. Reilly.