A North Dakota judge has thrown out charges against journalist Amy Goodman after she filmed oil company security using pepper spray and dogs on protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Democracy Now! host could have spent multiple months in jail if Judge John Grinsteiner hadn’t rejected the charges in a move widely praised for upholding freedom of the press.
At first the state attorney office of North Dakota charged Goodman with “criminal trespass,” but later decided to switch to riot charges after they admitted “legal issues with providing the notice of trespassing requirements in the statute,” as reported by Democracy Now!
State attorney Ladd Erickson did his best to charge Goodman with something; he told a local newspaper she was “a protester, basically,” and that she was only working to justify actions taken by protesters. He said in an email she “was not acting as a journalist” even though the first trespass complaint described Goodman as a reporter since she identified herself on camera and conducted interviews.
Goodman could have spent as much as a year in jail if the riot charges hadn’t been rejected. One of her lawyers, Reed Brody told The Guardian the disturbing case was a “real outlier in general.” But the state attorney’s office may already be trying to pin Goodman down on another charge. Local county sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said in a statement, “I am assured charges are being considered against these individuals. Let me make this perfectly clear, if you trespass on private property, you will be arrested.”
For now, many people are thrilled freedom of the press won the day. In a Democracy Now! article, Goodman said, “This is a complete vindication of my right as a journalist to cover the attack on the protesters, and of the public’s right to know what is happening with the Dakota Access pipeline. We will continue to report on this epic struggle of Native Americans and their non-Native allies taking on the fossil fuel industry and an increasingly militarized police in this time when climate change threatens the planet.”