Washington’s jails were very busy on Inauguration Day, as 230 spent the night in prison on January 20 after being arrested during protests. Among the arrests, was Aaron Cantú, a staff writer at the Santa Fe Reporter who has been indicted by a grand jury on felony charges that he participated in a riot while covering the protests. If convicted, he faces 75 years in prison.
Six other journalist were arrested during the protests on January 20. However, they all had their charges drop by February, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom.
While other journalists had their charges dropped, the charges facing Cantú increased last week. He previously only faced ten years in prison, the grand jury indicted Mr. Cantú last week on 8 felony counts including:
- Incitement to riot
- Conspiracy to riot
- 5 counts on destruction of property
Cantu has accepted an October 15, 2018, trial date and entered a plea of not guilty, according to the Monitor.
However, there have been conflicting reports about the arrest as the Santa Fe Reporter says video footage shows that Cantu was:
“off to the side of the protests with other journalists, washing what appears to be pepper spray from his eyes”
Conversely, the indictment according to the Monitor states:
“Cantu, and other individuals participating in the Black Bloc, brought face masks, gas masks, and goggles to eliminate or mitigate the effectiveness of crowd control measures that might be used by law enforcement.”
The Reporters Committee for Freedom sent a letter in February to acting US Attorney Channing Phillips (who is overseeing the case) in defense of Cantu.
“Journalists are not above the law and have no right to incite a riot or engage in acts of assault or vandalism,”
Bruce Brown, the executive director of the organization, said.
“But being near a newsworthy event is no crime for anyone, reporters included. Journalists routinely run toward the center of any action, so they can better serve the public by reporting an event they personally witnessed, rather than something recounted by bystanders.”
More on this to come…