IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – An Iowa journalist covering a racial justice protest was blinded when a police officer fired pepper spray in her face and was jailed for hours despite repeatedly telling her she was just doing her job. , according to a video played Tuesday. at the reporter’s judgment.
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 had arrested her, adding that she was in pain and could not 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 and unjustified. The couple face fines and potentially even jail time if convicted.
Officer Wilson testified Tuesday that he did not record the arrest with his body camera and did not notify a supervisor as required by department policy. But Chiodo captured the scene shortly after Wilson stopped Sahouri with his body camera. Chiodo said she did not arrest a second Register reporter who was nearby because she did not disobey orders and “seemed very scared.”
“I just tried to give him very simple instructions that he had to get up and go,” Chiodo testified.
The newspaper had assigned Sahouri to cover the protest at the Merle Hay mall in Des Moines, days after the death of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis who was pronounced dead after a white officer put his knee on him. neck for nine minutes. Hundreds of protesters gathered and Sahouri reported the details live on Twitter.
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 commercial 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 range, and Wilson said he deployed more pepper spray that “incapacitated” Robnett.
Sahouri was taken to jail 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. It was immediately clear that Sahouri’s arrest was newsworthy and controversial.
Prosecutors say Sahouri and Robnett ignored police orders to leave the area long before their arrests, while the defense argues those orders were unclear.
Body camera video played in court showed officers yelling at protesters to get out of an intersection and instructing them to keep the peace about 90 minutes before their arrests, and Robnett and Sahouri complied.
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 louder at the scene and carried over a public address system.