The RTDNA Voice of the First Amendment Task Force is demanding that prosecutors in St. Louis drop charges against a journalist who was arrested and allegedly roughed up by officers while covering a protest Sunday evening, September 17.
Mike Faulk, a reporter for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was reporting on the activities of a crowd that was protesting the September 15 acquittal of a white former city police officer who’d been charged in the shooting death of an African-American man. According to the newspaper’s attorney, officers surrounded the protestors – and Faulk, who was standing nearby – then ordered them to disperse, leaving them nowhere to go. Several of the protestors, and Faulk, were then taken into custody.
Moments before he was arrested, Faulk tweeted: “We are closed in on all four sides now I have no idea where people are supposed to go. People freaking out.”
Not only was Faulk arrested, the paper reported, but he was also thrown to the pavement and his hands restrained with zip ties. Then, according to the paper, one officer used his boot to pin Faulk’s head to the ground, after which another sprayed him in the face with pepper spray. A short while later, an officer looked through the contents of Faulk’s phone.
Faulk was charged by the city counselor’s office with “failure to disperse.” He spent 13 hours in jail, even though his editor posted Faulk’s $50 bail within two hours of the arrest.
The Post-Dispatch’s attorney has sent a letter to the St. Louis mayor and other city officials demanding the charges be dropped, saying of Faulk, “He was simply engaged in his First Amendment protected activity of newsgathering.” Photos of Faulk’s arrest clearly show that he was prominently displaying his press credentials, and the paper says he had repeatedly told officers he was a journalist, not a protestor.
The St. Louis Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has also issued a statement demanding that Faulk’s charges be dropped.
“Already this year, more than 20 journalists have been arrested across the country merely for doing their jobs. This, however, appears to be an egregious case of police overreach and, perhaps, even police brutality against a reporter,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director.
According to the newspaper’s attorney, Faulk suffered injuries to his back, a wrist and both of his legs. He also alleges that while in jail, officers repeatedly denied Faulk’s requests for medical attention.
“RTDNA calls on police in St. Louis and throughout the United States to establish protocols to enable journalists to do their jobs while covering protests without risk or fear of arrest or injury at the hands of law enforcement. What appears to have happened to Mike Faulk simply cannot be tolerated – or occur to other journalists who are performing their Constitutionally-guaranteed duty to seek and report the truth,” Shelley added.
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force early this year to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. It is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats to press freedom in America.