Award-winning journalist Amy Goodman won an important victory for press freedom yesterday, but given alarming new comments made by her prosecutor, it may be short lived.
On Monday, a judge quickly dismissed an absurd ‘riot’ charge brought against her by North Dakota authorities that stemmed from her coverage on Democracy Now of a violent attack on Dakota Access Pipeline protesters. But apparently, prosecutors don’t plan on dropping their investigation into her. They announced they may charge her again and indicated they want her unaired footage.
The New York Times reported on Monday evening:
[Goodman] and her lawyers declared victory on Monday, but Ladd Erickson, a state prosecutor who is assisting the Morton County state’s attorney’s office in the case, said other charges were possible.
“I believe they want to keep the investigation open and see if there is any evidence in the unedited and unpublished videos that we could better detail in an affidavit for the judge,” he said via email. “The Democracy Now video that many people have seen doesn’t have much evidence value in it.”
As we reported last week, the prosecutors first issued an arrest warrant for Goodman back in September for “criminal trespassing,” while indicating she was not entitled to any protections as a journalist because they claimed, “Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions."
Then, the prosecutors admitted that there were "legal issues with proving the notice of trespassing requirements in the statute," i.e. they knew they couldn’t prove their case. So they dropped the trespassing allegation and instead charged her with participating in a ‘riot,’ which was dismissed Monday.
So even though they’ve been stymied twice by the law, they’re now thinking of returning for round three. It’s clear that the prosecutors have pre-determined Goodman should be in jail, and now just have to figure out how—statutes and First Amendment be damned.
Worse, they are now claiming they need Democracy Now’s unaired and unedited footage from the event to bolster their supposed “case.” They didn’t say how they plan on getting that footage, but one can assume they will need subpoena it. North Dakota has a strong reporter’s shield law that should protect Goodman and Democracy Now from turning it over, but given how much the prosecutors have disregarded the law so far, there’s no indication they’ll stop now.
North Dakota’s unconstitutional pursuit of Goodman is beyond an embarrassment at this point. It could not be clearer that Goodman was doing her job as a journalist and exercising her First Amendment rights to report on newsworthy events. These prosecutors should be sanctioned or fired for misconduct, and the Justice Department should consider investigating Morton County state’s attorney’s office if they continue their investigation.
In the meantime, North Dakota state's attorneys office should order its prosecutors to immediately cease trying to invent new ways to stifle free speech and chill press freedom. It is dangerous to every journalist in the country.