The reporter on trial and her colleague testified they did not hear officers’ orders for protesters to disperse and repeatedly identified themselves as members of the press.
DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — Jurors in the criminal trial of a reporter arrested while covering a Black Lives Matter protest in Iowa last May heard conflicting evidence from witnesses Tuesday on whether she resisted or interfered with the arresting officer.
The six-member jury heard two days of testimony in the criminal trial of Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri, who was arrested while covering a demonstration in Des Moines that turned violent.
Sahouri was charged with failure to disperse and interference with an officers’ duties. The prosecution and defense rested their cases Tuesday, and the case is expected to be given to the jury Wednesday morning.
Over the two-day trial, jurors heard conflicting accounts of the events leading to Sahouri’s arrest.
Des Moines police officer Luke Wilson, who arrested Sahouri, had testified on Monday that she was charged with interfering with an officer because she pulled away when he grabbed her arm. On Tuesday, however, the officer testified that “she didn’t try to fight me or assault me” and that she was clearly affected by the pepper spray shot into her face.
According to audio from the body camera worn by another Des Moines officer, Sergeant Natale Chiodo, who was nearby when Sahouri was arrested, the reporter can be heard saying, “This is my job, this is my job . . . I’m just doing my job . . . I’m a journalist.”
Testifying on her own behalf Tuesday, Sahouri said when she saw a police officer “charge” toward her, she put up her hands and said, “Press, press” before the officer grabbed her by the arm and sprayed pepper spray directly into her face.
She testified that she did not refuse any police officer’s order, resist arrest, or interfere with the arrest of anyone else. Asked if she pulled away from the arresting officer, Sahouri said, “not that I remember.”
Sahouri’s arrest happened while another Des Moines Register reporter, Kaitlyn Akin, was nearby, but she was not arrested. Asked why not, Chiodo said Akin froze, put up her hands and showed him her Register ID.
“She was not disobeying. She looked scared. I gave her simple orders to get up and leave,” Chiodo said.
Akin testified later Tuesday that she was surprised when she witnessed Wilson pepper spray and arrest Sahouri because, Akin testified, “I did not do anything wrong or break any laws. I was yelling that we were press. I understood us to be in the right and I didn’t understand why they detained Andrea.”
Sahouri was not carrying press credentials at the May 31 protest, which was sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Her boss, Des Moines Register Executive Editor Carol Hunter, testified on Tuesday that at the time of the protest, reporters were not issued official press credentials, but some carried ID badges with their names and photos used to gain entry to the Register building.
In response to questioning, Hunter said Register reporters may not break the law or violate a police officer’s dispersal order to report the news.
Sahouri’s then-boyfriend, Spenser Lyle Robnett, who was with her, was also arrested on the same charges. Both pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges that could bring fines of $625 and up to 30 days in jail for each offense.