Charges dropped against 2 reporters covering Ferguson unrest

AP News
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Posted: May 19, 2016 8:07 PM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Prosecutors on Thursday dropped charges of trespassing and interference with police officers against two national reporters arrested while covering the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

The charges, filed in August 2015, were dismissed against The Washington Post's Wesley Lowery and The Huffington Post's Ryan Reilly, St. Louis County spokesman Cordell Whitlock told The Associated Press.

The reason for the dismissals was not immediately clear, though The Washington Post and a column by Reilly on the Huffington Post's website both said prosecutors abandoned the charges in exchange for the reporters' pledges not to sue the county.

While insisting the charges were "supported by the facts," St. Louis County Counselor Peter Krane — the county's chief legal official — said "the resolution reached is a reasonable one. Everyone involved is now able to move on from that event of the past to focus on doing good work in the future."

His statement did not elaborate about why the charges were dropped.

Lowery and Reilly were arrested at a Ferguson McDonald's they were using as a staging area while covering unrest that followed the August 2014 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

Wilson later was cleared of wrongdoing and resigned in November 2014. The shooting set off days of protests and propelled the national Black Lives Matter movement.

Lowery and Reilly were handcuffed as police ordered the fast-food restaurant evacuated, and both journalists later tweeted about their arrests, detention and release.

"I never had any doubt we'd ultimately win," Reilly wrote Thursday. "But financially, fighting these charges made little sense. A deal probably would have resulted in few if any actual consequences for us, but it also would have legitimized bogus arrests and provided cover for officers who violated our rights and engaged in misconduct."

Lowery also claimed vindication over the arrests he long called "inappropriate, and the decision to charge us a year later was outrageous."

"The decision to drop these charges further confirms what we've said all along: We were two journalists doing our jobs who never should have been detained, much less charged," The Washington Post quoted Lowery as saying. "I sincerely hope St. Louis County prosecutors apply their newfound wisdom broadly and cease prosecution of the dozens of others, journalists and otherwise, who still face charges for lawful expression of their First Amendment rights during the unrest in Ferguson."

A message Thursday with a St. Louis County police spokesman was not immediately returned.

Attorneys this month announced that four other journalists arrested during the protests settled their March 2015 lawsuit against St. Louis County police. Although details of that deal were confidential, a joint statement said the county will adopt policy changes to address issues raised in the lawsuit.

That lawsuit accused county police and 20 officers of violating the reporters' civil rights and unjustifiably detaining them.