Charges Dropped Against Journalist Covering Inauguration Protests

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Above Photo: On inauguration day, police kettle protesters at the corner of 12th and L Streets in Washington, DC./Photo by Mark Hand

Shay Horse, an independent photographer, was notified by the U.S. Attorney’s office that felony rioting charges against him had been dropped without prejudice. He had been arrested and charged during protests in Washington, DC on Jan. 20, the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Horse was among seven journalists who were arrested when police indiscriminately rounded up hundreds of protesters using a technique called “kettling.” Mass arrests in 2000 and 2002 led to lawsuit settlements in the millions. As part of the legal settlements, new policies were implemented which prohibited kettling.

Police also tear gassed and pepper sprayed protesters and threw concussion grenades at them after a few “Black Bloc” demonstrators allegedly broke storefront windows and torched a limosine.

In total, seven journalists were arrested and charged along with more than 200 protesters. In addition to Horse, charges have also been dropped against four other members of the press reporting the inauguration protests, but two others—Aaron Cantu and Alex Stokes—still face charges. Horse said police gave no reason for arresting him.

The arrest will remain on his record for five years until the statute of limitations expires.

Many civil rights advocates and media organizations voiced outrage at the journalists’ arrests. The charge of felony rioting is particularly severe. It carries a maximum penalty of up to ten years in prison.

Within hours, a civil rights lawsuit was filed against the Metropolitan Police Department disputing the legality of the police’s actions, citing their use of kettling.

“Around the time of Trump’s swearing in, John Doe MPD Officers and John Doe Park Police officers surrounded individuals who were at or near 12th & L St., NW. … Without warning and without any dispersal order, the police officers kettled all of the plaintiffs,” according to the complaint. “Defendants included in the kettle not only protesters who had engaged in no criminal conduct, but also members of the media, attorneys, legal observers, and medics. … Defendants proceeded to indiscriminately and repeatedly deploy chemical irritants, attack the individuals with batons, and throw flash-bang grenades at the kettled individuals.”

Additionally, the lawsuit claims excessive force. “The use of chemical irritants against Plaintiffs, the use of the batons against Plaintiffs, and the deployment of flash-bang grenades under the circumstances constituted unreasonable and excessive force,” Washington attorney Jeffrey Light argued in the complaint.

Charges against both journalists and protesters claim that they “willfully engaged, incited and urged other people to engage in public disturbance.” To pin specific acts on individual protesters, however, police will have to scour hours of surveillance video, photographs and video taken by law enforcement officers on the scene, as well as press coverage.