Student journalists arrested for covering Ferguson protests

A student photojournalist at Tufts University was arrested Tuesday and charged with disturbing the peace while he was on assignment at a Boston rally where students protested a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Additionally, on Saturday Ferguson police detained student journalist Trey Yingst, a junior at American University in Washington, D.C., and accused him of unlawful assembly as he covered the protests for multimedia news operation News2Share. 

Nick Pfosi, executive photo editor for The Tufts Daily and a student member of the National Press Photographers Association, said he was photographing students at the rally Tuesday night when the crowd became aggressive and pushed toward a barricade of motorcycles and police officers.

Pfosi said Boston police officers were “arbitrarily” removing people when one officer pulled him out of the crowd and onto the ground by his camera and handcuffed him with zip ties.

Calls and emails to the Boston Police Department’s public records and media relations offices weren’t returned.

Pfosi said he was expecting the rally to be tense, loud and crowded, but the protesters’ force against the barricade caught him off guard.

He said he was most concerned about his ability to file his photographs with the newspaper because he worried authorities would take his camera equipment and memory cards.

“I wasn’t too worried about the criminal aspect of it,” Pfosi said.

Pfosi said he will talk with legal counsel about the First Amendment aspects of the charge and seek to have the charge dismissed. Pfosi has legal representation from Robert A. Bertsche of Prince Lobel Tye LLP, a member of the SPLC volunteer attorney network.

Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for NPPA, said he hopes the prosecutor will recognize Pfosi was exercising his free press rights and agree to dismiss the charge.

“Our position has always been that citizens and journalists out in a public place have a right to photograph and record police,” Osterreicher said.

Saturday evening, Yingst was filming a dispute between Ferguson protesters and police, according to The Eagle, the student newspaper at American University. 

Filming from a sidewalk, the newspaper reported police told him to cross the street. Misunderstanding the officers’ demands, Yingst was arrested and is being charged with unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse. 

“We are deeply troubled that the First Amendment rights of the media are still being violated in spite of the recent court order we secured against by the County of St. Louis,” Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said in a news release. “We will continue to monitor the situation and if necessary swiftly pursue aggressive action to ensure that unlawful interference with the press comes to an end.” 

Tony Rothert, ACLU of Missouri’s legal director, said in the statement police are not allowed to threaten to arrest or order people to move if they are peaceably standing, marching or assembling on public sidewalks.

“Police have an obligation to protect First Amendment rights,” Rothert said, “not violate them.”

SPLC staff writer Anna Schiffbauer can be reached by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.