WASHINGTON — Prosecutors announced on Friday that they had dropped a criminal case against a journalist arrested amid protests in downtown Washington, DC, during President Trump's inauguration.
Evan Engel, a journalist with Vocativ, was among 230 people charged with felony rioting in connection with large, sometimes violent, anti-Trump demonstrations on Jan. 20. Engel's lawyer, former White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, notified a judge that Engel was a journalist during his first court appearance on Jan. 21, but prosecutors went ahead with the case against him at the time.
in a statement on Friday, however, the US attorney's office in Washington said that prosecutors decided to dismiss the charge against Engel "after consultation" with his lawyer. Felony rioting is a crime under DC law that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $25,000.
Ruemmler did not immediately return a request for comment. It was an unusual case for the former White House lawyer, whose work now at the law firm Latham & Watkins focuses on white-collar crime. Ruemmler told reporters at the Jan. 21 hearing that her firm has done work for Vocativ, which is how she got involved.
At least six other defendants arrested on Jan. 20 and charged with felony rioting have been identified as journalists, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Their cases are pending. They're represented by court-appointed lawyers, according to the case dockets. The US attorney's office said in Friday's statement that it had no comment on the status of cases against any other defendants.
The US attorney's office said that prosecutors were continuing to look at other evidence and "are always willing to consider additional information that people bring forward."
In a statement, Vocativ’s editorial director Ben Reininga said that, “learning that one of our journalists was arrested while on assignment and faced charges carrying severe fines and jail time served as a chilling reminder that we must never take our First Amendment freedoms for granted. We are pleased that charges against Evan were dismissed and we look forward to continuing to do our work.”
Engel said in a statement that his “thoughts are with any other journalists who are facing charges for doing their jobs, as well as with journalists imprisoned around the world."
Updated with statements from Vocativ and new information about arrests.
Zoe Tillman is a legal reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Zoe Tillman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.