Belated Charges for Mo. Protesters Draws Ire

     ST. LOUIS (CN) – Multiple organizations banded together to condemn charges that the St. Louis County Counselor has belatedly brought against protesters arrested in the wake of Michael Brown’s death last August.
     The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri estimates that hundreds of charges could be issued. The ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 11 groups signed on to the Missouri chapter’s statement Tuesday, blasting the move.
     “We condemn this action as a blatant violation of constitutional rights and an appalling misuse of our already overburdened court system,” the statement reads.
     “We urge the St. Louis County Counselor’s office to do the right thing and help heal the region by dismissing all of these cases immediately.”
     St. Louis County Counselor Peter Krane told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his office has reviewed approximately 100 reports documenting protester arrests in Ferguson between August and December, but expects fewer than 100 warrants will be issued in connection to those arrests.
     Defending the year-long delay in issuing the summonses, Krane said a staff review of the Ferguson files did not occur until after St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger appointed him to position of chief legal counsel in January.
     “If the facts did not support a charge, a summons was not issued,” Krane told the Post-Dispatch. “If the facts supported a charge, then a summons was issued.”
     Two of those belated summonses, to reporters Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post, garnered national headlines.
     The Reporters Committee issued a separate letter Tuesday, condemning the summonses to Stenger, Krane and Assistant County Counselor Steven Robson.
     It says that the decision to pursue charges against Lowery and Reilly “is particularly egregious” given the nonthreatening atmosphere in which the arrests took place.
     “The journalists were ordered to leave a public restaurant, and while they were leaving, they asked questions and videotaped the officers,” the letter states. “This is perfectly lawful and appropriate behavior, does not justify the officers’ decision to arrest them for ‘disobeying’ an order, and certainly cannot justify a trespassing charge in a restaurant open to the public.”
     The letter goes on to state, “Charging journalists with crimes for covering a story sends a clear signal that police do not want their actions documented, and thus makes the situation worse.”
     The Washington Post, National Public Radio, The Kansas City Star, Courthouse News Service and The Associated Press are among the 39 organizations and news agencies to sign the letter.

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