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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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Go deeper

White House nominates Rick Spinrad as NOAA leader

In this NOAA GOES-East satellite handout image, Hurricane Dorian, a Cat. 4 storm, moves slowly past Grand Bahama Island on September 2, 2019. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)

The White House on Thursday evening nominated Rick Spinrad, an oceanographer at Oregon State University, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Why it matters: Filling the NOAA slot would complete the Biden administration's leadership on the climate and environment team. The agency, located within the Commerce Department, houses the National Weather Service and conducts much of the nation's climate science research.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the delegation traveling to Washington, D.C. next week for strategic talks on Iran to stress their objection to a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal and to refuse to discuss its contents, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: That position is similar to the one Israel took in the year before the 2015 nuclear deal was announced, which led to a rift between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. History could now repeat itself.

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