Monday, October 17, 2016

Judge Rejects Riot Charge Against Amy Goodman of ‘Democracy Now’ Over Pipeline Protest

Photo
Amy Goodman on the set of “Democracy Now” in New York. CreditEvan Sung for The New York Times
The radio journalist Amy Goodman spent the weekend with the threat of a riot charge hanging over her, arising from protests over a planned oil pipeline in North Dakota. But on Monday a judge rejected the case for lack of evidence.
Ms. Goodman, the host and executive producer of the syndicated radio and web show “Democracy Now!” on Pacifica Radio, had planned to enter a not guilty plea on Monday, but District Judge John Grinsteiner declined to sign the charging document, bringing the case to a stop — at least for now.
She and her lawyers declared victory on Monday, but Ladd Erickson, a state prosecutor who is assisting the Morton County state’s attorney’s office in the case, said other charges were possible.
“I believe they want to keep the investigation open and see if there is any evidence in the unedited and unpublished videos that we could better detail in an affidavit for the judge,” he said via email. “The Democracy Now video that many people have seen doesn’t have much evidence value in it.”
Mr. Erickson had informed the broadcaster of the planned riot charge. Ms. Goodman had characterized that as a threat to journalism and the First Amendment.
Appearing in a Facebook Live video from outside the courthouse in Mandan, N.D., on Monday after it became clear she would not face the riot charge, Ms. Goodman said she and her program would continue to cover the pipeline protests. “The state’s attorney was attempting to stop journalism,” she said. “The state’s attorney must respect freedom of the press and the First Amendment.”
Ms. Goodman, a Polk Award-winning journalist, was originally charged with criminal trespass on Sept. 8, after she reported on a violent clashbetween protesters and security guards on Sept. 3, at a construction site near Mandan for the Dakota Access pipeline.
The project has been the subject of protests by members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, among others. Several guards were injured, according to news reports, and Ms. Goodman reported that protesters had been doused with pepper spray and that dogs had been used against them.
On Friday, the prosecutor, Mr. Erickson, dismissed the trespassing charge. Tom Dickson, one of Ms. Goodman’s lawyers, told The Associated Press that Mr. Erickson had informed him he planned to file a new charge against Ms. Goodman: engaging in a riot. The A.P. said the charge carried a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.
“The prosecutor seems to be determined to charge Amy with something,” Reed Brody, a lawyer for Ms. Goodman, said in a phone interview on Monday, before the judge’s decision.
Ms. Goodman, 59, appeared in a short Facebook Live broadcast on Monday morning from Mandan as she was waiting to hear if a judge had approved the riot charge.
“I wasn’t trespassing,” she said. “I wasn’t rioting. The ‘Democracy Now’ team and I were there to report, to document what was happening on the ground. These charges are simply a threat to all journalists around the country: Do not come to North Dakota.”
Mr. Erickson, the prosecutor, told The Bismarck Tribune last week that Ms. Goodman’s actions went beyond reporting.
“She’s a protester, basically,” he said. “Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions.”
Mr. Brody said that the prosecutor could seek other charges, such as disturbing the peace.
“It’s hard to see what the State of North Dakota gains by charging a reporter with a crime for doing her work,” he said. “If the attempt is to prevent people from talking about the Dakota Access pipeline, it certainly has not worked out for them.”
The 1,170-mile pipeline has drawn thousands of protesters, many from the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes who say that federal authorities approved the project without fully taking into consideration the tribes’ concerns that it would damage their water supplies and cultural sites.
The federal government last month temporarily blocked construction on parts of the project over those concerns.
Correction: October 17, 2016 
An earlier version of this article misstated the given name of one of Amy Goodman’s lawyers. He is Tom Dickson, not Tim.

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