A prosecutor who is pursuing charges against an Iowa newspaper reporter who was arrested while covering a protest in May told a judge Thursday that his office shouldn’t have to give body-camera footage and other evidence to the journalist’s lawyer because his office was too busy.
Brad Kinkade, an assistant Polk County attorney, told Judge Christopher Kemp that because Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri had only been charged with misdemeanors, the case was considered a low-priority and wasn’t worth the time needed to provide evidence the defense has requested.
“It’s a turn-and-burn docket,” Kinkade said. “They’re supposed to be handled with no delay and little cost.”
According to the Des Moines Register, Sahouri was covering a protest near a shopping mall on May 31, less than a week after George Floyd died in Minneapolis, sparking hundreds of demonstrations nationwide. Floyd, who was black, died after a white Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin down Floyd’s neck while he gasped for air.
Police began shooting pepper spray and ordering protesters to disperse after some people were destroying property and stealing items from stores.
Despite identifying herself as a reporter and leaving the area, Sahouri said officers pepper-sprayed and then arrested her. Her boyfriend, Spenser Robnett, who had accompanied her due to safety concerns, also was apprehended. Both were charged with interference with official acts and failure to disperse. They have pleaded not guilty.
The prosecution of Sahouri prompted the Iowa Freedom of Information Council to send a letter to County Attorney John Sarcone, objecting to his refusal to drop the case. The letter was signed by 150 individuals, organizations and news outlets, including The Associated Press.
“Ms. Sahouri was in a place where she had every right to be, doing a job that she has a constitutional right to do. She complied with police orders to disperse, and officers pepper-sprayed her while she did so,” the letter states. “Even after she clearly established her status as a reporter who was on assignment, she was held in custody.”
Sahouri and Robnett are represented by attorney Nick Klinefeldt, who is asking the judge to order prosecutors to provide police reports, body camera recordings and police policy and training information. If authorities plan to prosecute Sahouri and Robnett and giving them criminal records, Klinefeldt argued they should provide evidence of the alleged crimes.
The judge will consider the arguments and hold a hearing in August to set a trial date.