Show an ad over header. AMP

Des Moines reporter's acquittal lauded as victory for press freedom

Press freedom advocates are celebrating a decision by jurors in Iowa to acquit Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri of all charges that she incurred while covering a Black Lives Matter protest last May.

Why it matters: The verdict sets a critical precedent for journalists covering protests and political movements moving forward. More than 100 reporters were arrested while covering Black Lives Matter protests last year. While charges against most were eventually dropped, others are still pending.


Details: The jury found that Sahouri and her then-boyfriend Spenser Robnett, who also stood trial this week, were found not guilty of two misdemeanor charges — failure to disperse and interference with official acts.

  • During the three-day trial, the plaintiff argued that Sahouri and Robnett refused to leave the demonstration scene upon police requests. The defense argued the order wasn't clear and they didn't fail to obey commands.
  • Des Moines Officer Luke Wilson, who arrested Sahouri last summer, testified that he made the arrest because Sahouri interfered with the arrest of her then-boyfriend and that she refused to leave the premises after he shot pepper spray to disperse the crowds. His body cam was not recording during the incident.
  • Sahouri testified that she identified herself as "press" but was still pepper sprayed by the police. "I put up my hands," she said. "I said, 'I'm press, I'm, press, I'm press.' He grabbed me, pepper sprayed me and as he was doing so, said 'that's not what I asked.'"

What they're saying: “I’m thankful to the jury for doing the right thing," Sahouri said following the verdict. "Their decision upholds freedom of the press and justice in our democracy,”

  • “We are very grateful that justice was done today, and that Andrea was fully exonerated,'" said Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president of News at Gannett Media, the parent company to the Des Moines Register.
  • "If reporters are arrested and hauled away from protests, that denies people the right to know what’s going on in their community,” said Carol Hunter, executive editor of the Des Moines Register.

Be smart: Trials like this are uncommon in the U.S., as journalists are rarely arrested on the job. This case quickly gained international attention, in part because violence against journalists across the U.S. and globally is on the rise.

  • "During civil unrest over the summer, we documented disturbing cases where journalists were targeted specifically because they were members of the media," said Katherine Jacobsen of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The big picture: Free press advocates are lauding the decision as a victory, but say it's problematic that Sahouri was charged to begin with.

  • "This is a huge relief that she was acquitted but even still, it's deeply disturbing that this case even went to trial in the first place," said Sarah Matthews, a staff attorney with the Reporters Committee.
  • "The fact that this even got to trial sends a really chilling message to journalists, especially those considering covering protests in Des Moines specifically."
  • "As a journalist who documents press freedom violations in the U.S. it’s a concerning precedent for her to have not only been arrested and assaulted with pepper spray while reporting but then to also face trial," said Kirstin McCudden, managing editor of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, in a statement.
  • "The jury verdict is welcome, but doesn’t fully lift the shadow this prosecution has cast over one of our country’s most core values," the Freedom of the Press Foundation said in a statement.

Yes, but: While press freedom experts agree this case sets an important precedent for other similar cases globally, most legal scholars don't believe Sahouri's case will have a major impact on other protestors.

  • "Legally, there’d be no connection between this case and other cases because each case is going to be judged kind of on its own merits," said Steve Foritano, director of the First Year Trial Practicum at Drake University.

What to watch: One of the major issues addressed in this case but still unresolved is how press should identify themselves when covering protests or other dangerous situations where police may be involved without putting themselves in danger.

  • While some TV journalists are easily-identifiable with cameras and microphones, many print journalists often get confused for protestors or other on-the-ground witnesses.
  • Matthews said the Reporters Committee encourages journalists to clearly identify themselves because there are legal benefits in doing so. It puts police on notice that they are are protected to cover protests by the First Amendment.
  • Still, she concedes, "It is very tricky." A good solution for journalists if they feel they are in danger by identifying themselves as press is to potentially remove the logo of your news outlet while still identifying as press and to always have credentials on you, even if not visible.

The bottom line: "Unfortunately there isn't a one-size fits all answer here," Jacobsens said. "It is important that journalists assess the situation on the ground and decide the safest way to report."

Disclosure: Both Axios' Linh Ta and Jason Clayworth previously worked with Sahouri at the Register.

Big European soccer teams announce breakaway league

12 of world soccer's biggest and richest clubs announced Sunday they've formed a breakaway European "Super League" — with clubs Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona Real Madrid, Juventus and A.C. Milan among those to sign up.

Details: So far the breakaway league that's due to start in August consists of six clubs from England, three from Spain and three from Italy.

Keep reading... Show less

Senate Democrats settling on 25% corporate tax rate

The universe of Democratic senators concerned about raising the corporate tax rate to 28% is broader than Sen. Joe Manchin, and the rate will likely land at 25%, parties close to the discussion tell Axios.

Why it matters: While increasing the rate from 21% to 25% would raise about $600 billion over 15 years, it would leave President Biden well short of paying for his proposed $2.25 trillion, eight-year infrastructure package.

Keep reading... Show less

Republican leaders raked in sizable donations from grassroots supporters

Republican leaders turned to grassroots supporters and raked in sizable donations after corporations cut them off post-Jan. 6.

Why it matters: If those companies hoped to push the GOP toward the center, they may have done just the opposite by turning Republican lawmakers toward their most committed — and ideologically driven — supporters.

Keep reading... Show less

CDC: Half of US adults have received one COVID-19 vaccine dose

Data: CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

Half of US adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and about a third are fully vaccinated, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are still on the rise, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during Friday's White House COVID-19 briefing. With cases in many states being driven by variants, public health officials have emphasized the need to ramp up vaccinations.

Keep reading... Show less

Israeli intel agencies believe Vienna talks will lead to U.S. return to Iran nuclear deal

Israeli military intelligence and senior officials in the Mossad briefed a meeting of the nation's security cabinet that talks in Vienna between Iran and other world powers will lead to the U.S. returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, two officials who attended the meeting told me.

Why it matters: The Israeli government is very concerned about a U.S. return to the nuclear deal and is trying to convince the Biden administration not to take the pressure off the Iranian regime.

Keep reading... Show less

"It hurts": Latino community of 13-year-old killed by police in Chicago reels after shooting

Residents of Little Village, a well-known and predominantly Latino neighborhood in Chicago, are grieving the death of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Mexican American boy from the neighborhood who was shot and killed by a police officer on March 29, NBC News reports.

Why it matters: Adam Toledo's killing shines a spotlight on police shootings of Latinos, who are killed by law enforcement at the second-highest rate after Black Americans, according to data from the Washington Post.

Keep reading... Show less

Biden adviser warns "there will be consequences" for Russia if Navalny dies

The Biden administration warned the Russian government "that there will be consequences" if jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday.

The big picture: Sullivan also defended President Biden for not mentionining Navalny in a Thursday speech about Russia or in a Tuesday call with Russian President Vladimir Putin,saying the White House aims to deal with the issue "privately and through diplomatic channels."

Keep reading... Show less

Prosecutor on leave for failing to "fully present the facts" after shooting of 13-year-old boy

Cook County prosecutor James Murphy was placed on administrative leave Friday after he implied in court that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by a police officer in March, was armed when he was shot, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times report.

Why it matters: Videos of the shooting show that Toledo dropped what appears to be a weapon and put his hands in the air a moment before before he was fatally shot. A lawyer for the Toledo family said Thursday that if the teen "had a gun, he tossed it."

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories