Federal charges dropped against journalist arrested on Inauguration Day

229 others, including five other journalists and numerous bystanders, still face felonies.

Smoke from a police “sting-ball” grenade rises in a crowd of protesters and cameramen during a police “kettle” of demonstrators on Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Tenally
Smoke from a police “sting-ball” grenade rises in a crowd of protesters and cameramen during a police “kettle” of demonstrators on Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Tenally

One of the six journalists charged in a vast round-up of protesters in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day will no longer face the felony rioting charge that federal prosecutors are pursuing against 200-plus demonstrators, bystanders, and legal observers, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced Friday.

Prosecutors rescinded the charge against Vocativ’s Evan Engel “after consultation with the counsel for Mr. Engel…as well as a review of evidence presented to us by law enforcement,” according to a statement.

The good news for Engel does not necessarily foreshadow relief for others who got rounded up alongside him in the unusual dragnet-style response to property crimes committed by black-clad “antifas” marchers. The other 229 people still face maximum sentences of 10 years in prison.

Engel was in a better position to fight back legally than most of those people. Several of the other reporters arrested and charged are freelancers without a news organization backing them. Two arrestees identified by The Guardian as independent journalists are relying on public defenders to represent them so far.

If police and prosecutors are conducting a full-scale review of video and other evidence pertaining to each of the 230 people charged, then other charges will likely also be dropped. Nine of those arrested were on hand only as neutral legal observers, the National Lawyers Guild told ThinkProgress. Videos from Friday’s hours-long mass detention, or “kettle,” indicate that many of those present were peaceful marchers not aligned with the rowdier, masked group that prompted the police action.

Police justified the felony charges using identical language in each arrest report, without identifying specific alleged actions. People were kept in the area for hours, and any given individual bystander might or might not be able to find sufficient video proof of their lawful conduct — if they even receive the same level of scrutiny that prompted prosecutors to drop Engel’s case Friday.

Few of those facing prison time will have the kind of big legal guns Vocativ hired for Engel. At the massive arraignment hearing for the 230 arrestees on Saturday, most were represented by legal aid volunteers and public defenders. Engel, meanwhile, had former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler standing for him.