Mar 3, 2021 - News
Des Moines Register reporter heads to trial over BLM protest arrest
Des Moines police arrest reporter Andrea Sahouri outside Merle Hay Mall. Photo courtesy of Andrea Sahouri
Des Moines police arrest reporter Andrea Sahouri outside Merle Hay Mall. Photo courtesy of Andrea Sahouri

Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri is heading to trial March 8 following her arrest while covering a Black Lives Matter protest last summer.

Why it matters: The Polk County Attorney's Office decision to uphold Sahouri's charges shows "disregard for the First Amendment," said Randy Evans, president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

  • "My concern has only grown as I learn that charges against many others who were arrested at these demonstrations have been dismissed by prosecutors," Evans said.
A screenshot of a tweet showing the Merle Hay Mall protest by Andrea Sahouri.A tweet by Andrea Sahouri from the night of her arrest. Screenshot: Twitter

Background: Hundreds of BLM protesters demonstrated outside Merle Hay Mall on May 31.

  • Sahouri, 25, was covering the event when officers deployed tear gas, forcing protesters across Douglas Avenue. Amongst them, she followed, according to the Register.
  • She was subsequently pepper-sprayed by an officer and arrested.
  • She was charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts, though she told officers at the scene she was a reporter, according to the Register.

The state of play: Court documents show the state may plan to claim Sahouri was a protester or did not properly identify herself as a reporter.

  • Sahouri's attorney may raise a First Amendment argument to defend her.

What they're saying: Carol Hunter, executive editor of the Register, said she fears Sahouri's charges could have a "chilling effect" on free press.

  • Hunter said the Register is taking it on "good faith" that the arresting officer did not discriminate against Sahouri.
  • Katie Akin, a former Register reporter who is white, worked alongside Sahouri at the protest, but was not arrested.
  • "The fact that a reporter was arrested while doing her job flies in the face of the very language of the First Amendment," Hunter said.

The other side: Axios emailed Polk County Attorney John Sarcone's office, asking what specific evidence he has against Sahouri and for his response to criticism by news outlets and First Amendment groups.

  • He declined to comment, saying his office does not speak to the media pretrial.

Of note: Both Axios' Linh Ta and Jason Clayworth previously worked with Sahouri at the Register. Sahouri declined to comment for this story given the pending charges.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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