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Des Moines Reporter On Trial Found Not Guilty

Andrea Sahouri of the Des Moines Register speaks with reporters after a Polk County jury found she was not guilty of disobeying police orders at a racial justice protest.
Grant Gerlock
Andrea Sahouri of the Des Moines Register speaks with reporters after a Polk County jury found she was not guilty of disobeying police orders at a racial justice protest.

The trial of a Des Moines Register reporter that raised an outcry from free press advocates ended in a not guilty verdict Wednesday.

Andrea Sahouri was accused of disobeying police at a racial justice protest near Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines that had turned violent. During the trial, she testified that she was trying to hurry away from where police were clearing a crowd with tear gas when she was pepper-sprayed and arrested.

Defense attorney Nick Klinefeldt told the six-member jury she was at the protest to do her job as a journalist, just as officers were there to protect property and keep people safe.

Following the verdict, Sahouri said she is glad the jury seemed to recognize that.

“The jury did acquit us and, you know, I’m really, really grateful for them that they upheld freedom of the press and, of course, a just democracy,” Sahouri said.

In his closing statement, prosecutor Brad Kinkade told the jury that Sahouri’s job as a reporter should not be taken as a factor in the case.

“If reporting or doing her job was a defense, it would have been included in the jury instructions,” Kinkade said.

However, after deliberating for about two hours the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges for Sahouri. Spenser Robnett, her then-boyfriend who went to the protest to help protect her, was also cleared on all charges.

According to U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, Sahouri was one of only about a dozen journalists in the nation facing criminal charges when the trial began. Media outlets, journalism advocates and human rights groups praised the verdict while continuing to question why the charges were brought before a jury.

Carol Hunter, executive editor of the Des Moines Register, said in a statement, “We are grateful that the jury saw this case as the unjust prosecution of a reporter who was doing her job.”

Iowa Public Radio issued a statement that read, in part, “Journalists should be able to do their important work of witnessing, documenting and providing accounts of legitimate news events without fear of arrest or intimidation.”

When asked about the case during her weekly press conference, Gov. Kim Reynolds said she had no comment. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said he was unaware of the details when asked on a call with reporters, but said if Sahouri was not violating any laws, she should be covered by freedom of speech.

“So I don’t know that she should be prosecuted now, but you’d think she’d be prosecuted because she’s violating some law or something and not just reporting,” Grassley said.

Sahouri continues to work for the Register where she covers breaking news. But, she said, she was traumatized by the arrest when a Des Moines police officer sprayed her twice at close range with a pepper spray fogger.

“Continuing to do my job has been difficult but it’s important,” Sahouri said. “That’s why I’m in this field. I maintain that it’s important to be documenting history and informing out communities.”

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa