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Iowa reporter acquitted on all charges after arrest during Black Lives Matter protest

After a three-day trial, a jury took only two hours to find the reporter, Andrea May Sahouri, was not guilty on charges of failure to disperse and interference with official acts. Spenser Robnett, Sahouri’s then-boyfriend, was also acquitted on the same charges.

Police claimed that Sahouri ignored orders and failed to leave the site of a Black Lives Matter protests in Des Moines on May 31, 2020.

Shortly after the verdict, Sahouri tweeted the word “Acquitted” with two photos taken of her during the arrest.

“I’d like to thank my family and friends, my Des Moines Register and Gannett colleagues and people around Des Moines, nationally and globally who have supported me for nearly a year after I was unjustly assaulted and arrested,” Sahouri said in a statement. “I’m thankful to the jury for doing the right thing. Their decision upholds freedom of the press and justice in our democracy.”

Sahouri’s case had alarmed journalists and press freedom advocates who contended the charges should have been dropped and that the case should never have made its way to trial.

“This is a reporter. In America. Facing jail time for reporting from a news event,” USA Today Editor-In-Chief Nicole Carroll wrote Friday. “Yes, protests are chaotic. Still, the arrest was wrong. And the fact that the prosecutor is still pursuing charges is beyond wrong — it’s chilling.”
The Des Moines Register is owned by Gannett (GCI), which publishes USA Today and operates the USA Today Network.

“We are grateful that the jury saw this case as the unjust prosecution of a reporter who was doing her job,” Carol Hunter, executive editor of the Des Moines Register, said in a statement. “Newsgathering is a fundamental part of press freedom. Reporters need to be at protests as the public’s eyes and ears, to conduct interviews, take photos and witness for themselves the actions of protesters and law enforcement.”

Sahouri said during the trial that she immediately identified herself as a member of the press to a police officer who was approaching her, but that the officer pepper sprayed and zip tied her wrists anyway.
Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president of news at Gannett, told CNN’s Brian Stelter Sunday that it was “simply inexcusable” Sahouri was “still facing these charges and going to trial.” Wadsworth reiterated that in a statement on Wednesday.

“It was clear that police were allowing other journalists to do exactly what Andrea was doing that day — reporting from a breaking news scene,” Wadsworth said. “Andrea was assaulted, arrested, charged and ultimately tried for doing her job. Today’s victory was as much a victory for the First Amendment as it was for Andrea.”

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