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Des Moines Reporter Testifies She Was Moving Back When Arrested At Protest

Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri listens to opening statements in her trial in which she is charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts while reporting on a protest last summer.
Kelsey Kremer
/
The Des Moines Register via AP
Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri listens to opening statements Monday in her trial in which she is charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts while reporting on a protest last May.

In the second day of her trial, Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri testified that she was arrested at a racial justice protest as she was trying to go farther away from an area where police were clashing with protesters.

Prosecutors in the case have claimed that Sahouri, and her then-boyfriend Spenser Robnett, remained at a protest near Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines on May 31, even after police had ordered everyone to leave the area.

Sahouri and Robnett are charged with failure to disperse and interfering with official acts. Journalism and human rights advocates have called the trial a violation of freedom of the press.

Taking the witness stand Tuesday afternoon, Sahouri said she never heard Des Moines police give an order to disperse. She said when she was detained she was hurrying away from an area where police were clearing protesters with tear gas. She looked back and stopped when she saw an officer closing on her.

“I didn’t think it was a good idea to run from officers,” Sahouri said when defense attorney Nick Klinefeldt asked how she responded. “I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so I put up my hands. I said, ‘I’m press, I’m press, I’m press.’ He grabbed me, pepper sprayed me and as he was doing so said, ‘That’s not what I asked.’”

There is no direct video of the arrest taking place. Ofc. Luke Wilson of the Des Moines Police Department, who made the arrest, testified that he failed to turn on his body camera before confronting Sahouri and that an auto-recording was never salvaged.

However, the defense showed another video from the body camera of Ofc. Natale Chiodo, who was part of a response team with Wilson. In the video, Chiodo comes upon Sahouri shortly after she was detained.

Sahouri can be heard telling officers that she is a Des Moines Register reporter. “This is my job! I’m just doing my job!” Sahouri said in the video. “I’m just doing my job, I’m a journalist!”

Spenser Robnett and former Register reporter Katie Akin, who were with Sahouri, both also testified Tuesday that they never heard officers command people to leave. They said before the arrest they never felt they were in the wrong place.

Akin said she, Robnett and Sahouri were retreating from the scene before the arrest and that she wasn’t aware police were nearby until she heard Sahouri yell behind her.

“When I turned around I saw that there were two officers on either side of Andrea,” Akin said. “I saw one of the officers pepper spray her in the face. And I was surprised by all of this and I was confused as to why it was happening because I didn’t understand us to be breaking any laws or doing anything wrong.”

Akin said she was approached by Ofc. Chiodo but was allowed to leave after showing her ID badge and telling him she was with the press.

Prosecutors also allege that Sahouri attempted to pull away when she was being arrested and that Robnett tried to pull her away from Ofc. Wilson. Robnett disputed that in his testimony, saying he never grabbed Sahouri and did not see her try to get away.

“So when Officer Wilson testified that someone tried to pull her away from him he was incorrect? Is that your testimony?” asked assistant Polk County attorney Brad Kinkade. “Yes,” Robnett replied.

Defense and prosecutors will make closing arguments Wednesday before the jury is asked to consider a verdict.