St. Louis County Missouri has agreed to drop criminal charges against Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post. The reporters were covering the unrest in Ferguson nearly two years ago. Watch this clip starting at the 2:45 minute mark to see what precipitated the arrest. I’m no criminal lawyer, but from what I can tell the arrests – inside a McDonalds where the reporters were grabbing a bite -- were for the offenses of “not moving as fast as the cop wanted” and “asking questions is a respectful tone.” I don’t know if those are felony level offenses or not.
Thanks in part to Twitter, the reporters were released from custody that evening. But nearly a year later, prosecutors filed formal charges against them for trespassing and interfering with a police officer. Now, almost two years after the initial arrest, the matter is being settled. In exchange for the count dropping the charges, the reporters have agreed not to file any civil lawsuit. All’s well that ends well?
I’m not so sure. The initial arrest was an abuse of power by a cop. Totally inexcusable, but given the tension that night, I can see it happening. I’m more troubled by the prosecutor’s decision – nearly a year later – when there were no bullets firing or street fires burning – to file formal charges. And I can’t help but wonder if those charges were filed precisely to serve as a bargaining chip to avoid liability for the initial arrest.
If so, that is true abuse of power. And there is no excuse at all for that.