Charges dropped against Independent journalist arrested and shackled during Seattle protests

Chief US correspondent Andrew Buncombe was assaulted and detained for more than six hours after being accused of ‘failure to disperse’ while reporting on demonstrations

Samuel Lovett
Wednesday 15 July 2020 13:34 BST
Journalist arrested while covering Seattle protest speaks of police violence

Authorities in the United States have dropped criminal charges against an Independent journalist arrested while covering race protests in Seattle.

Chief US correspondent Andrew Buncombe was detained, shackled and assaulted by a prison guard after being arrested on a charge of “failure to disperse” as local police sought to clear demonstrators in Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park, prompting strong criticism from press freedom and human rights organisations.

Mr Buncombe, who denied committing an offence, could have faced up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 (£4,000) fine, but Seattle’s deputy city attorney has now confirmed prosecutors will not be pressing charges.

“I’m writing on behalf of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office to let you know that we do not plan to file any charges against Mr Buncombe,” John Schochet said in an email sent to Mr Buncombe’s lawyers.

Mr Buncombe’s arrest sparked international condemnation, amid concern over police violence against members of the press covering protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

The Independent launched the Journalism is Not a Crime campaign on Wednesday in support of press freedom in the US - and elsewhere around the world - following the arrest of Mr Buncombe and an estimated 60 other journalists covering Black Lives Matter demonstrations in America.

Christian Broughton, the editor of The Independent, said: “We are delighted and relieved that Andrew Buncombe no longer faces charges – of course, he should never have been arrested in the first place.

“Now we need to celebrate the importance of truly independent journalism and defend the rights of the free press in the nation of the First Amendment, which once led the world in championing the role of journalism in society.”

Writing for The Independent on Wednesday, John Simpson, the BBC world affairs editor, described the “disturbing” impact of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Journalists, such as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who uncovered the Watergate scandal, were hailed as “national heroes”, Mr Simpson wrote.

“But of course at that stage American presidents didn’t tell their followers that journalists were the enemy of the people, as President Trump has,” he added. “The message has sunk in: and the US police, often recruited from Trump’s bedrock support, have heard it and acted on it.”

Karen Pierce, the British ambassador to the US, had launched an official complaint about the arrest of Mr Buncombe, escalating the issue to senior levels of the State Department. The White House was also informed.

In Seattle, councillor Lisa Herbold wrote to mayor Jenny Durkan and police chief Carmen Best demanding action on Mr Buncombe’s “unacceptable” treatment.

Ms Herbold said it violated the Seattle Municipal Code, which states that failure to disperse orders cannot apply to news reporters unless they are “physically obstructing” lawful efforts by police to disperse a group.

“It is our job as elected officials to ensure the press remains free and is able to carry out its work, in accordance with the constitution and city law,” Ms Herbold wrote.

Amnesty International USA said Mr Buncombe was one of at least 60 journalists arrested while covering protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in May.

“The media have a right to attend and report on these protests, and law enforcement officials have a responsibility not to prevent or obstruct their work,” said deputy director of research Justin Mazzola.

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