It took little more than a day for St. Louis County police to violate a court order ruling that police are forbidden from restricting citizens to record in public after they arrested a journalist for doing just that Saturday night as tensions continue to mount in anticipation of Monday’s grand jury decision.
The fact that a judge needed to issue three court orders for three law enforcement agencies to enforce what the First Amendment already protects is an indicator of how heavy-handed police have been with protesters and journalists over the last three months since the police shooting death of an unarmed teenager.
The fact that police blatantly ignore the court order is an indicator of how heavy-handed they might be in lieu of the grand jury decision that will determine whether or not Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be indicted for the shooting death of Michael Brown.
St. Louis County police said they arrested Trey Yingst for “failure to disperse” but countless witnesses say Yingst was arrested for taking photos from a public sidewalk.
According to Reason:
A credentialed member of the media was arrested in Ferguson around 11:40 pm Saturday night. The arrest appeared to violate a court order issued Friday prohibiting the police from arresting law-abiding journalists.
Lieutenant Jerry Lohr of the Saint Louis County Police Department later told myself and other members of the media that the journalist was arrested for “failure to disperse” from a street, despite the fact that I, as well as approximately one hundred other protesters and media clearly witnessed the arrest take place on the sidewalk.
Saint Louis County police then tweeted from their official account that Trey Yingst, a reporter from D.C., had been arrested for failure to disperse because he “was asked to leave street by the commander and refused.” The tweet was met with a backlash of dozens of contradicting reports, photos, and videos from individuals on the scene who saw what I saw: a reporter being arrested for taking photos on a public sidewalk.
The court order was issued to the Ferguson Police Department, the St. Louis County Police Department and the Missouri Highway Patrol, the three agencies who have been overseeing the continuous protests since the shooting on August 9.
According to the National Press Photographers Association:
Today a federal judge for the Eastern District of Missouri granted three orders agreed and consented to by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the County of St. Louis Missouri, and the City of Ferguson [Links are to the court orders]. The orders signed by Judge John A. Ross for the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the County of St. Louis enjoins those entities from “interfering with individuals who are photographing or recording at public places but who are not threatening the safety of others or physically interfering with the ability of law enforcement to perform their duties.”
Yingst was released about four hours after his arrest, according to a tweet he sent out early this morning.
Prior to his arrest, Yingst was in the process of sending out a tweet complimenting police for their restraint.
UPDATE: Yingst was one of several journalists and photographers who issued a declaration describing how police had violated his Constitutional right to document, which led up to the court orders as you can see in the screenshot below. Click here to read the entire 103-page document. Yingst’s declaration begins on page 53.