Arrested journalist pleaded with the officer: ‘This is my job’

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – An Iowa journalist covering a racial justice protest was temporarily blinded after a police officer fired pepper spray and later jailed despite repeatedly telling her she was just doing her job. according to a video played Tuesday at the reporter’s trial.

Body camera video captured by Des Moines Police Sgt. Natale Chiodo showed Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri in custody on May 31, 2020, her eyes burning from the pepper spray. She said she was with the newspaper and asked Officer Luke Wilson why he was arresting her, adding that she was in pain and couldn’t see.

“This is my job,” Sahouri says in the video. “I’m just doing my job. I am a journalist. “

Sahouri’s defense showed the video to jurors on the second day of a trial in which Sahouri and her ex-boyfriend, Spenser Robnett, are accused of failing to disperse and interfering in official events. The prosecution has received widespread criticism. from the media and human rights defenders, who say the charges are an attack on press freedom. The couple face fines and potentially even jail time if convicted.

Officer Wilson testified that he did not record the arrest with his body camera and did not notify a supervisor as required by department policy. But Chiodo’s body camera captured the scene shortly after Wilson detained Sahouri.

Chiodo said he did not arrest a second Register reporter with Sahouri, Katie Akin, because she was not disobeying orders and “seemed very scared,” telling her to leave.

Akin testified that he was shocked to see an officer pepper spray and arrest Sahouri because “he did not understand that we were breaking any laws or doing something wrong.” Akin said he started yelling at the police that they were journalists and that he was holding up a press badge.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation called the video powerful evidence that Sahouri “was arrested while doing her job reporting on historic protests.”

“This arrest should never have been made and the prosecutor should never have filed these charges,” the group said in a tweet.

Des Moines Register Executive Editor Carol Hunter testified that the newspaper assigned Sahouri to cover the protest at the Merle Mall.There are days after the death of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis who was pronounced dead after a White officer put his knee to his neck for about nine years. minutes. Hunter said Sahouri did his job “very well” that night, reporting observations and images from the event live on Twitter.

Hunter said Sahouri did not violate the newspaper’s policy by allowing her boyfriend to join her at the event, which she said made sense given it was a dangerous situation. She said the newspaper had not issued any formal credentials to Sahouri and that employees only had security badges at the time, which were optional to wear. Authorities have said Sahouri did not carry press credentials.

Wilson, an 18-year veteran of the Des Moines Police Department, said he responded to the protest and encountered a “rowdy mob” breaking shop windows, throwing rocks and water bottles at officers and running in different directions. . He said his unit was told to clear a parking lot and that he used a device known as a fogger to cover the area with clouds of pepper spray.

He said the chemical irritants caused most of the crowd to disperse, including Robnett, but that he decided Sahouri should be arrested when she did not leave. Wilson said he did not know Sahouri was a journalist.

Wilson said he held it with his left hand while his nebulizer was in his right hand. Wilson said Robnett came back and tried to get Sahouri out of his reach, and Wilson said he used more pepper spray that “incapacitated” Robnett.

Sahouri was taken to jail in a police van and released hours later.

During cross-examination by defense attorney Nicholas Klinefeldt, Wilson said he accused Sahouri of interference because she briefly pushed his left arm away while he was arresting her. He acknowledged that he did not mention that claim in his police report on the arrest.

Wilson said he rarely used his body camera during his normal work at the city airport, mistakenly believed he had recorded Sahouri’s arrest, and was unfamiliar with the details of the department’s body camera policy.

The cameras are always capturing video when they are turned on and can retrieve video of incidents that were not recorded afterwards if they have not yet been erased. Agents who do not record incidents they should have must notify supervisors, who can then attempt to retrieve video that has no audio.

Prosecutors say Sahouri and Robnett ignored a police order to leave the area that was broadcast over a public address system about 90 minutes before their arrests.

The defense argues that the order was solely intended to clear an intersection where protesters were blocking a patrol. Akin, the Register reporter who was not arrested, testified that she was not under the impression she was supposed to leave and continued to report.

Body camera video played in court showed officers yelling at protesters to get out of the intersection and instructing them to be peaceful. Robnett and Sahouri obeyed.

A separate dispersal order could be heard faintly in the background video, so quiet that even an officer testifying for the prosecution appeared to have a difficult time understanding it. But prosecutors argued that the message was strongest at the scene.


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