116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A sad scene played out this week in Polk County, where a journalist stood trial for doing her job.
Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri was arrested last spring while covering a protest in Des Moines, one of many demonstrations staged last year in response to police killings of Black people. At a May 31 demonstration near Merle Hay Mall, police responded to the rowdy crowd with chemical munitions in an attempt to clear the area.
Police on the scene said they didn't know Sahouri was a journalist, even though video footage shows her identifying herself. Police and prosecutors surely knew Sahouri was a journalist after Register editors and lawyers told them so shortly after her arrest, but they went forth with charges anyway.
Dozens of journalists were detained last year during a national surge in racial justice protests. Sahouri is one of the few whose charges were not dropped in the aftermath of chaotic demonstrations. If convicted on charges for failure to disperse and interference with official acts, she could have faced jail time and a fine.
A jury found Sahouri not guilty on Wednesday, but the fact that this case went to trial at all is a damning reflection of the system at several levels. There were multiple opportunities for the arresting officers, police supervisors and the county attorney's office to make the right choice. They all failed.
One of these things must be true: Either law enforcement officials knowingly detained a journalist to prevent her from doing her job, or they led a protest response so belligerent and chaotic that a journalist was erroneously swept up in it. Polk County Attorney John Sarcone's decision not to drop the case makes us uneasy that it might be the former. In either case, it's a very bad look for Iowa law enforcers.
An officer acknowledged during testimony this week that he did not activate his body camera during his interaction with Sahouri, as required by department policy. The officer did not report his failure to record the incident, another violation of department policy.
Protesters say police are too aggressive and resistant to accountability. Police sometimes seem determined to prove them right.
For Iowans, the Sahouri trial is an embarrassing courtroom spectacle getting international attention. It should have area voters thinking hard about this year's city council contests and next year's county attorney election.
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