The head of the state newspaper association says charges filed against a reporter who documented a pipeline protest "at least raises a red flag," though law enforcement says she was targeted because she could be identified from video footage -- not because she is a journalist.
"It’s apparent that the protest was on private property, but it’s regrettable that authorities chose to charge a reporter who was just doing her job," Steve Andrist, executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association, said via email about the misdemeanor trespass charge filed against Amy Goodman, a New York-based reporter who documented the use of guard dogs at a Dakota Access Pipeline protest.
"There were a lot of people at the protest site, and only two of them were charged. One was a reporter, and that certainly creates the impression that the authorities were attempting to silence a journalist and prevent her from telling an important story," Andrist wrote after reviewing the complaint against her.
Goodman was charged Thursday in Morton County with one count of trespassing, based on video footage of her at a protest site on private property during Labor Day weekend, according to court documents. A warrant was issued for her arrest.
Goodman reported on a clash between protesters and private security at an active construction site south of Mandan that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said contained historic artifacts. Three guards were reportedly injured, and several protesters said they were pepper-sprayed and bitten by dogs handled by the security personnel. The North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board has since opened an investigation into the use of dogs at the site.
Footage of the protest was featured on "Democracy Now," a TV news show hosted by Goodman. It went viral on social media and may have been used as evidence against her.
"Amy Goodman can be seen on video identifying herself and interviewing protesters about their involvement in the protest," according to a police affidavit filed in the case.
Jack McDonald, attorney for the newspaper association and the Bismarck Tribune, who has worked in media law for 40 years, said he could not recall a reporter facing trespassing charges while covering a story in the state.
"They have been threatened many times with arrest for trespass or interfering with police officers/fire personnel/emergency responders, but no actual arrest," McDonald said via email.
Cody Hall, spokesman for the Red Warrior Camp, also was charged with trespassing in the same incident. He spent the weekend in jail after he was picked up with expired tabs. He pleaded not guilty on Monday afternoon.
Morton County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said the two were charged "because those two our investigators were able to identify."
No one was arrested on the day of the incident, since the protesters dispersed when law enforcement arrived, according to Preskey.
She would not say whether law enforcement had identified other individuals who have not been charged. The case remains under investigation.
Goodman declined to be interviewed for this article. According to a statement on her show's website, she is working with lawyers from North Dakota and the Center for Constitutional Rights, a civil rights advocacy organization.
"This is clearly a violation of the First Amendment … an attempt to repress this important political movement by silencing media coverage," Baher Azmy, CCR's legal director, said in that statement.
Goodman was arrested at least once before on the job: at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., according to news reports. Goodman sued law enforcement and settled for $100,000.
Lucy Dalglish, dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland and former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said Goodman's case will revolve around whether she was singled out for charges.
"When it comes to laws of general applicability, like robbing a bank or trespass, journalists do not have a greater right to do it than anyone else," said Dalglish, who once worked for the Grand Forks Herald. "However, if they treated her differently or in a more negative way because she was reporting, then there is a First Amendment issue."
Dalglish said it is fairly common for reporters, and especially photographers, to face trespass charges. However, it is less common for them to face arrest after the fact.
Of Goodman's work potentially being used against her, Dalglish commented: "That's kind of slimy."