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Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri found not guilty over BLM protest arrest

Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri was acquitted of all charges by a jury on Wednesday following her arrest while covering a Black Lives Matter protest last summer.

Why it matters: The verdict affirms the right of journalists to document historic and occasionally chaotic protests like those in response to George Floyd's killing.

  • Carol Hunter, the executive editor of the Register, told Axios last week that she feared the fact that Sahouri faced charges at all could have a "chilling effect" on a free press, both in Des Moines and across the country.
  • "The fact that a reporter was arrested while doing her job flies in the face of the very language of the First Amendment," Hunter added.

The state of play: Sahouri faced charges of failure to disperse and interference with official acts.

  • Spenser Robnett, her then-boyfriend who accompanied her at the protest, was also acquitted.

The backdrop: Sahouri told the jury on Tuesday that she was covering a protest at Merle Hay Mall on May 31, 2020, when she saw an officer "coming at me." She raised her hands and said, "I'm press, I'm press, I'm press."

  • Officer Luke Wilson grabbed her, pepper-sprayed her and said, "That's not what I asked," Sahouri testified.
  • Robnett, who accompanied Sahouri to protect her, tried to explain she was a journalist and was also subsequently pepper-sprayed and arrested.
  • Wilson did not have his body camera on at the time — leaving out the critical few seconds prior to her arrest.

The state argued: Sahouri and Robnett failed to leave the scene after the police gave a dispersal order.

  • Assistant Polk County Attorney Brad Kinkade said her role as a journalist should be irrelevant.

Sahouri's defense argued: There was no clear dispersal order and no evidence showing them disobeying police commands.

  • Defense attorney Nicholas Klinefeldt said police "assaulted" Sahouri while she was doing her job.

What's next: Sahouri still works as a breaking news reporter at the Register.

  • The state has the opportunity to appeal the verdict if they have a legal basis.

For more stories like this, subscribe to the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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