The Clark County District Attorney’s Office will not prosecute the two photojournalists who were arrested in May while covering a Black Lives Matter protest on the Strip.
Review-Journal photographer Ellen Schmidt and freelancer and former Review-Journal employee Bridget Bennett were arrested May 29 on misdemeanor charges of failure to disperse.
“We are incredibly relieved that Ellen and Bridget have reached the end of a wrongful and completely unnecessary journey through the criminal justice system,” Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said. “Especially during times of social unrest and conflict, law enforcement must allow journalists to do their jobs.”
Cases recently dropped
Court records show that the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute Bennett’s case Oct. 28 and Schmidt’s case last week.
Review-Journal attorney Maggie McLetchie said that though she was pleased the district attorney’s office decided not to proceed, it was unfortunate the journalists were cited and arrested in the first place.
“They were reporting on a significant event surrounding the national conversation about race and policing,” McLetchie said. “And the idea that journalists would be arrested for being present while photographing these events doesn’t pass constitutional muster.”
The district attorney’s office and Las Vegas police did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
But the day after the arrests, Sheriff Joe Lombardo told The Nevada Independent the journalists were arrested after refusing to obey two orders to disperse, and that they did not identify themselves as members of the media until they were taken into custody.
In Las Vegas police body camera footage from the night of their arrests, Schmidt and Bennett are seen identifying themselves as journalists. Schmidt is seen holding up her press badge to officers as she’s being handcuffed as Bennett is being handcuffed on the ground by another officer.
Bennett said that though it was frustrating to become part of the story, it’s necessary to emphasize the First Amendment, which includes protections for free speech and freedom of the press, and the seriousness of arresting journalists and legal observers.
“Because we play incredibly important roles in trying to communicate what happens to the best of our ability,” she said.
Schmidt said that she hoped press freedom would be a renewed concern to police.
“So many journalists have been wrongfully arrested in the past few months,” Schmidt said. “Arresting journalists takes away from the protesters’ message, which is why journalists are there in the first place: to document.”