UPDATE: The attorney general of Ohio dropped charges against NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert, whose arrest last week in East Palestine drew an outcry from the network and journalism groups as an infringement on his First Amendment rights.
“My office has reviewed the relevant video and documentary evidence, and is dismissing the charges against Evan Lambert as unsupported by sufficient evidence,” Attorney General Dave Yost said in a statement.
“While journalists could conceivably be subject to criminal charges for trespassing in some situations, this incident is not one of them. The reporter was lawfully present at a press conference called by the Governor of the state. His conduct was consistent with the purpose of the event and his role as a reporter.”
Lambert was charged with resisting arrest and criminal trespass, both misdemeanors.
Lambert had been doing a live shot in the back of a gymnasium, where Ohio Governor Mike DeWine was giving a press conference on a train derailment. Body cam footage showed Ohio National Guard Adjutant General John Harris getting in an argument, as authorities said that Lambert had been too loud. At one point, Harris pushed Lambert away. Then, officers threatened to arrest Lambert if he did not leave. Video footage showed police putting hand restraints on Lambert as he was pinned to the ground.
Lambert posted a statement on Twitter in which he wrote, “I’m still processing what was a traumatic event for me, in the context of a time where we are hyper aware of how frequently some police interactions with people of color can end in much worse circumstances. That is not lost on me.”
“At the same time, as a journalist who has spent more than a decade covering crime, courts and more recently federal law enforcement, I have great respect for the officers who do their jobs each day with integrity, civil rights, justice and safety at the core of their mission.”
PREVIOUSLY, February 9: NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert was released on Wednesday night after his arrest earlier Wednesday at a press conference being given by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
He said on air, “I have to be kind of careful about what I say, but as you can see I am out. Most things are on video of the situation, so it is pretty clear to see what happened. I’ll just say this. I’m just trying to do my job.”
Lambert had been covering the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Lambert was doing a report in the back of the gymnasium, but was arrested after he was told by local law enforcement to be quiet as DeWine was speaking at the press conference, according to NewsNation. DeWine said that he did not order the arrest and that Lambert should not have been stopped from doing the report.
Columbiana County Sheriff Brian McLaughlin told CNN that Lambert was arrested on charges of criminal trespass and resisting arrest. NewsNation said the charges were criminal trespass and disorderly conduct, and Lambert said that the charges were still pending.
DeWine told NewsNation on Thursday that he expressed to officials that he thought that Lambert should be released.
“I think we would like to see this whole thing go away,” DeWine said. “What I don’t know are all the facts and it is not fair for me, to the police or the reporter involved or to anyone else who was involved to comment on that, because I have not seen the facts.”
He added, “I don’t want to see him in jail. I don’t want to see him prosecuted. But for me to say, ‘I know what happened,’ would simply not be the truth.”
Video footage of the incident showed Lambert face down on the ground as officers tied his hands.
Mike Viqueira, NewsNation’s Washington bureau chief, said in a statement, “Evan handled this unfortunate situation with true professionalism, and we appreciate his commitment as a journalist whose goal is to report stories that are fair and unbiased. On a positive front, I just spoke to Evan a short time ago and he was calm, cool and collected and already talking about his next assignment.”
Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said that Lambert’s arrest “is yet another deeply concerning instance of law enforcement violating the First Amendment rights of journalists. It’s unreasonable for law enforcement to prohibit press from reporting at PRESS conference by public officials. In this country, we have constitutional protections that guarantee press freedom, and yet, we repeatedly see law enforcement disregarding these protections.”
The Society of Professional Journalists also condemned the arrest. “Journalism is not a crime and we urge East Palestine PD to drop all charges against Mr. Lambert immediately and issue a public apology for his arrest.”
PREVIOUSLY: A reporter for NewsNation was arrested on Wednesday as he was covering a press conference being given by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine about the train derailment in East Palestine.
Evan Lambert, who is based in Washington, had traveled to Ohio to cover the story and was doing a live report during the press conference, being held in a high school gymnasium, when he was told by local law enforcement to be quiet as DeWine was speaking.
He was then taken into custody on charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing, according to the network.
At the press conference, DeWine said that he had not authorized the arrest, which NewsNation captured on video.
Preston Swigart, the photographer who was with Lambert, said that police had told him to stop talking as he did his live shot.
“From their standpoint, he didn’t obey orders when he was told to stop talking,” Swigart said, according to NewsNation. “Gymnasiums are echoey and loud and sound kind of carries, so I’m guessing that they just didn’t like the fact that there was sound competing with the governor speaking, even though it was all the way at the other end of the room.”
DeWine’s press secretary, Dan Tierney, said that DeWine did not see the incident because his view was blocked by a bank of cameras, but he did hear a disagreement toward the back of the gymnasium.
“Governor DeWine did not request that the reporter stop his live broadcast, nor did he know that the request was being made,” Tierney said via email.
DeWine said at the press conference, “It has always been my practice that if I’m doing a press conference, if someone wants to report out there, and they want to be talking back to the people back on channel, whatever, they have every right to do that,” DeWine said. “…If someone was stopped from doing that, or told they could not do that, that was wrong.”
According to NewsNation, Lambert has been told that he would be held overnight in Columbiana County Jail. A law enforcement official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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