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Arrested Journos Claim Judge Abused Discretion

CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) - Two reporters arrested during the Ferguson protests have filed petitions in court seeking to have the charges against them dismissed, claiming the judge abused his discretion.

Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Rick Reilly of the Huffington Post were arrested together while working on their lap tops at the McDonald's in Ferguson on Aug. 13, 2014. The duo was in Ferguson covering the protests sparked by the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, by a white Ferguson police officer.

Then Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, upon learning of their arrests, ordered their immediate release and Ferguson declined to press charges against the journalists.

On Aug. 5, 2015, almost one year later, St. Louis County charged Lowery and Reilly each with one count of trespassing on private property and one count of interfering with a police officer in the performance of his duty.

Lowery and Reilly argued the ordinances they were charged under applied only to unincorporated areas of St. Louis County. Since they were arrested within the Ferguson city limits, they claimed St. Louis County lacked the jurisdiction to charge them.

St. Louis County countered that the plaintiff's jurisdiction argument was irrelevant.

"The County argues that it has 'emergency powers' that give the County Counselor the authority to charge individuals with St. Louis County ordinance violations even when the St. Louis County Municipal Court has no jurisdiction," the complaints state.

St. Louis County Municipal Court Judge Craig Concannon found in favor of St. Louis County and denied the journalists' motion to dismiss.

Lowery and Reilly appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals, but that court concluded that adequate relief could only be afforded by filing a writ with Concannon's court.

In separate petitions, Lowery and Reilly filed for a writ of prohibition requiring Concannon to reverse his decision to dismiss their motion to dismiss, to dismiss all charges against them and barring him from taking any further actions against Lowery and Reilly.

Lowery and Reilly claim Concannon "abused his discretion and acted in clear excess of his jurisdiction by allowing the County to proceed with an unconstitutional and extra-jurisdictional prosecution of a news reporter who was exercising First Amendment rights that are at the very core of our democracy."

The journalists claim that St. Louis County's claim about having emergency powers has no basis. They say there was no state of emergency in Ferguson or in St. Louis County at the time of their arrests.

"More fundamentally, the County's cited statutory authority - which allows police officers, firefighters and agencies 'that have personnel with special skills or training that are needed to provide services during an emergency' to respond to requests for mutual aid - does not provide the County Counselor or the St. Louis County Municipal Court with the authority to proceed with an extra-jurisdictional prosecution," the petitions state.

Lowery and Reilly are both represented by Gabriel E. Gore of Dowd Bennett in St. Louis.

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