Andrea Sahouri, a reporter for the Des Moines Register who was arrested covering protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, was acquitted on Wednesday of the charges she continued to face amid outcry from press advocates.
Sahouri, who spoke about her arrest in an interview with The Independent for its “Journalism is Not a Crime” campaign, identified herself as a journalist numerous times to the arresting officers as she was detained while covering the protests. Still, she said she had pepper spray shot in her face and was detained for several hours for simply doing her job.
The journalist faced up to 30 days in jail over two charges, including failure to disperse and interference with official acts.
During her testimony, Sahouri described the importance of having journalists on the scene at historic demonstrations like the ones seen during the summer of 2020, following numerous police-involved killings of unarmed Black men and women in America. Those protests, some led by the Black Lives Matter movement, quickly transcended the US and swept across the UK and other cities and countries worldwide.
“It’s important for journalists to be on the scene and document what’s happening,” Sahouri said in her testimony. “Protests erupted not just across the country but all over the world. I felt like I was playing a role in that. I know we are a small city, but I felt like I was playing a role in that.”
The Polk County Attorney’s Office went forward with charges against Sahouri, a rare example of an American journalist tried for charges experienced while covering a demonstration or event, arguing that her status as a journalist was not relevant.
Attorneys for the local prosecutor also argued that Sahouri interfered with her arrest, though that was disputed by the defense with evidence shown during the trial in the form of photographs and video from the scene.
Sahouri was one of nearly a dozen journalists who continued to face charges for arrests experienced during their coverage of the protests that broke out over the summer. Videos shown during the trial of a police officer’s body camera featured Sahouri repeatedly identifying herself as a reporter while asking for aid after she was pepper sprayed.
Sahouri recorded a video of herself in the back seat of the cop car after her arrest near Merle Hay Mall.
“Police deliberately took me, sprayed pepper spray on my face and then put me in zip ties,” she said in thevideo, adding: “I’m just doing my job as a journalist. I’m just out here reporting as I see.”
She later told The Independent how her pleas to police effectively went ignored, while describing how she said she was “deliberately” detained despite another journalist on the scene not having been arrested.
“I put up my hands and said I was press multiple times, and he just didn’t seem to care, and proceeded to pepper spray me in the face, zip tie me and arrest me,” she said. “I kept proceeding to say I was press throughout the entire arrest … The police department knows me. I report on crime. I talk to the department almost every day at my job.”