Saturday, October 22, 2016

Judge rejects riot charges for journalist Amy Goodman after oil pipeline protest

Sam Levin
Oct. 17, 2016

A North Dakota judge rejected prosecutors’ “riot” charges against Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman for her reporting on the oil pipeline protests, a decision that advocates hailed as a major victory for freedom of the press.

After the award-winning broadcast journalist filmed security guards working for the Dakota access pipeline using dogs and pepper spray on protesters, authorities issued a warrant for Goodman’s arrest and alleged that she participated in a “riot”, a serious offense that could result in months in jail.

On Monday, judge John Grinsteiner ruled that the state lacked probable cause for the riot charge, blocking prosecutors from moving forward with the controversial prosecution.

“I feel vindicated. Most importantly, journalism is vindicated,” Goodman told reporters and supporters on a live Facebook video on Monday afternoon. “We have a right to report. It’s also critical that we are on the front lines. Today, the judge sided with … freedom of the press.”

The case stems from a 3 September report when Goodman traveled to the Native American-led protest against a controversial $3.8bn oil pipeline that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe says is threatening its water supply and cultural heritage.

Goodman’s dispatch on the use of dogs went viral and has since garnered 14m views on Facebook and also prompted coverage from many news outlets, including CBS, NBC, NPR and CNN.

The North Dakota state attorney’s office had originally charged the journalist with “criminal trespass”. But last week, prosecutors emailed Goodman’s attorney, admitting that there were “legal issues with proving the notice of trespassing requirements in the statute”, according to Democracy Now! Instead, the state said it would be seeking riot charges.

“If the prosecutor thought he was going to intimidate Amy, he severely misjudged the situation,” Reed Brody, one of Goodman’s lawyers, told the Guardian after the judge’s decision on Monday.


Depending on the specific charge, Goodman could have faced several months or up to a year if convicted, according to Brody.

The riot claim was particularly unusual and disturbing, the lawyer added.


Brody said he hoped the state would stop targeting Goodman and other journalists. “He tried one charge. He tried another. At a certain point, I would think it would become too embarrassing for him to pursue these charges.”

The case backfired on prosecutors by prompting many journalists to write about law enforcement’s questionable responses to protesters, he added.

“If he thought these charges were going to deflect media attention from the pipeline, then he really blew it.”

The Freedom of the Press Foundation noted that Goodman was arrested in 2008 for covering Minnesota protests at the Republican national convention. She later won $100,000 from the state in a first amendment lawsuit.


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