A Washington Post reporter who was arrested at a restaurant last year while reporting on protests in Ferguson, Mo., has been charged in St. Louis County with trespassing and interfering with a police officer and ordered to appear in court.
Wesley Lowery, a reporter on The Post’s national desk, was detained in a McDonald’s while he was in Missouri covering demonstrations sparked by a white police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black 18-year-old.
A court summons dated Aug. 6 — just under a year after Lowery’s arrest — was sent to Lowery, 25, ordering him to appear in a St. Louis County municipal court on Aug. 24. The summons notes that he could be arrested if he does not appear.
“Charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous,” Martin Baron, executive editor of The Post, said in a statement Monday. “You’d have thought law enforcement authorities would have come to their senses about this incident. Wes Lowery should never have been arrested in the first place. That was an abuse of police authority.
“This latest action represents contemptible overreaching by prosecutors who seem to have no regard for the role of journalists seeking to cover a major story and following normal practice,” Baron continued.
According to the summons, Lowery is being charged with trespassing on private property despite being asked to leave. He is also charged with interfering with a police officer’s performance of his duties because, the summons alleges, he failed to comply with “repeated commands to immediately exit” the restaurant.
Several St. Louis County police officers are listed on the summons as witnesses in the case. A county police spokesman referred a request for comment to the St. Louis County counselor’s office, which in turn transferred the request to Cordell Whitlock, a spokesman for the St. Louis County executive.
Whitlock confirmed that the summons is legitimate and, when asked whether the county had any comment on the charges, called the issue “a pending legal matter” and said an attorney for Lowery could call to get the relevant reports and paperwork. In addition, Whitlock said he did not know why the decision to charge Lowery took this long.
These counts carry a possible fine of $1,000 and up to a year in a county jail, according to the St. Louis County municipal code.
“I maintained from the first day that our detention was illegal and unnecessary,” Lowery, who is in Ferguson covering demonstrations there, said in a telephone interview Monday. “So I was surprised that a year later this is something officials in St. Louis County decided was worth revisiting.”
Lowery and Ryan Reilly, a journalist with the Huffington Post, were handcuffed last August inside a McDonald’s that reporters had been using as a staging area while covering the Ferguson protests.
While Reilly had not received a court summons Monday, Whitlock said Monday night that Reilly has been issued a summons on the same charges.
“A crime was committed at the McDonald’s, not by journalists, but by local police who assaulted both Ryan and Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post during violent arrests,” Ryan Grim, the Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief, and Sam Stein, the site’s senior politics editor, said in a statement Monday night. They added: “If Wesley Lowery and Ryan J. Reilly can be charged like this with the whole country watching, just imagine what happens when nobody is.
In an account Lowery gave after he was released, officers came inside the McDonald’s and asked him and Reilly for identification. A little later, police officers ordered them to leave.
Lowery said he was given conflicting information about where to exit and was attempting to gather his bag when officers grabbed him, slammed him into a soda machine and placed plastic cuffs on him. Reilly, speaking to the Huffington Post last year, said the police gave the reporters “a countdown like we were 5-year-olds.”
Both reporters were taken by police to a holding cell at the Ferguson police station, while news of their arrests quickly spread over social media. A reporter for the Los Angeles Times said he contacted then-Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson about the arrests, and about half an hour after their arrival, Lowery and Reilly were told that all media members could leave without any charges filed.
“The chief thought he was doing you two a favor,” one officer said, according to Lowery’s account.
Michael Calderone of the Huffington Post first reported last month that St. Louis County was still considering whether to charge Lowery and Reilly.
This post has been updated. First published: 5:48 p.m.