At least six members of the media have been charged with felony rioting after being arrested while covering President Trump’s inauguration Friday in Washington, D.C.
All six individuals were arraigned Saturday in D.C. Superior Court on charges of violating the city’s law against rioting, The Guardian reported Tuesday. They face up to 10 years behind bars if convicted and a $25,000 fine, according to the newspaper.
The half-dozen arrested include Vocativ reporter Evan Engel, RT America’s Alex Rubinstein and documentary producer Jack Keller, as well as independent journalists Matt Hopard, Shay Horse and Aaron Cantú, according to court filings seen by The Guardian.
Each of the reporters had been covering Inauguration Day protests at the time of their arrest, according to the newspaper, and have denounced the charges either through their employer or on their own behalf.
“The way we were treated was an absolute travesty,” Mr. Keller, a producer for “Story of America,” told The Guardian.
Vocativ spokeswoman Ellen Davis described the arrest of its own reporter as “an affront to the First Amendment and journalistic freedom.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a leading free press watchdog, similarly condemned the arrests in a statement Tuesday urging authorities to drop the charges.
“These charges are clearly inappropriate, and we are concerned that they could send a chilling message to journalists covering future protests,” said Carlos Lauría, CPPJ’s senior Americas program coordinator.
Prosecutors in D.C. declined to comment on the charges other acknowledging that evidence is still under review, The Guardian reported.
“Based on the facts and circumstances, we determined that probable cause existed to support the filing of felony rioting charges,” William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S Attorney’s Office for D.C., said in a statement. “As in all of our cases, we are always willing to consider additional information that people bring forward.”
Police arrested at least 230 people in the nation’s capital Friday when protests held in opposition to Mr. Trump’s swearing-in as the 45th president turned chaotic at times and triggered acts of violence and vandalism in sections of the city, including several fires.
Charging documents pertaining to the journalists lack specifics about their alleged crimes, however, and five of their six arrest reports identically state that “numerous crimes were occurring in police presence,” according to The Guardian.
“The crowd was observed enticing a riot by organizing, promoting, encouraging and participating in acts of violence in furtherance of the riot,” those reports said.
The National Lawyers’ Guild earlier this week accused local D.C. law enforcement of having “indiscriminately targeted people for arrest en masse based on location alone,” and accused the Metropolitan Police Department of behavior “clearly designed to chill the speech of protesters engaging in First Amendment activity.”
The Women’s March, a post-inauguration protest that drew an estimated half-million demonstrators to D.C. on Saturday, resulted in zero arrests, according to authorities.