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Post-Dispatch demands charges be dropped against reporter covering protest

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Corrects total of Sunday arrests. Although police originally said 123 people were arrested Sunday night, information released Monday detailed 121 arrests.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday condemned the “inappropriate and highly disturbing” arrest of one of its journalists on Sunday during a mass arrest by St. Louis police officers, and demanded that the city drop charges against him.

In a letter to Mayor Lyda Krewson, Acting Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole, City Counselor Julian Bush and Deputy City Counselor Michael Garvin, a lawyer for the newspaper also demanded that the city implement protocols to prevent “any recurrence of arrests of journalists who are covering these important events and who are engaged in no criminal activity whatsoever.”

Mike Faulk, 31, was on assignment covering the protests and vandalism that occurred downtown that night. He was wearing his news media credentials on a lanyard. Faulk was on the sidewalk near Tucker Boulevard and Washington Avenue as police used a tactic called “kettling” to round up about 100 people.

The action took place 40 minutes after police had issued an order several blocks away for the crowd to disperse. Two other Post-Dispatch journalists, and others — including a man with a baby in a stroller — barely escaped the lines of approaching officers by going into private businesses along Washington Avenue. As police closed in, Faulk tweeted that he had nowhere to go.

“St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalists and other credentialed news media provide critical information to the public,” said Post-Dispatch Editor Gilbert Bailon. “When St. Louis police arrested Mike, after he fully identified himself while covering the protests, they violated basic tenets of our democracy. Additionally, the physical abuse he suffered during the arrest is abhorrent and must be investigated. The Post-Dispatch is calling for our city leaders to immediately implement policies that will prevent journalists from being arrested without cause.”

Krewson said she had just received the letter and was reviewing it: “I’ve asked the Public Safety Department to review the situation described in the letter. We certainly don’t want to arrest reporters who are just doing their jobs.”

A spokeswoman for O’Toole said questions should be directed to the city counselor’s office.

Bush said Wednesday, “These are disturbing allegations, and we need to know more.”

The letter, by attorney Joseph E. Martineau, of the Lewis Rice law firm, said officers should have released Faulk immediately after recognizing he was covering a story, and allowed him to keep working.

Instead, he was arrested with “unneeded and inappropriate force” that caused injury to both legs, his back and wrist. Faulk was “forcefully pushed to the ground by police officers and a police officer’s boot was placed on his head.” After his wrists were bound with zip ties, a police officer “deliberately sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, mace or some other stinging substance.” At some point, an officer reviewed the contents of Faulk’s phone.

Faulk’s bike had not been returned to him by Wednesday. He was held more than 13 hours in jail even though an editor was at the jail two hours after his arrest to bail him out. Jail personnel lied to that editor by claiming Faulk was still in transit, even though he was already at the jail, the letter said.

Inside the jail, the letter said, jail personnel denied Faulk’s repeated requests for medical attention. Faulk was issued a Municipal Court summons charging him with failure to disperse, and he was released on $50 bail. He returned to the newsroom limping, knees bloodied and pepper spray still on his skin.

The city’s failure to establish a protocol to recognize and respect the rights of journalists gathering news was “a grave mistake,” the letter said.

Faulk said it was vital for the Post-Dispatch journalists to be present on downtown streets Sunday night.

“I can’t imagine how one-sided this discussion would be about what happened on Sunday night if not just reporters, but other people filming, weren’t there or somehow did not have the ability to do that,” he said. “For me, as a journalist, it’s about everyone there. About the people I saw on their hands and knees already submissive, being pepper-sprayed.”

Faulk said he told officers at the scene that he wanted to file an assault charge. He has so far not sought any criminal or legal actions. “I believe I have the right to pursue something through the city or the courts,” he said. For now, he said, he was taking time to “take care of myself.”

Faulk said he has always been interested in covering social justice. He previously covered unrest in Central America, and “felt like I was well-prepared for a situation like this. I wanted to be out there.”

The arrest drew condemnation from an association of journalists.

“Journalism is the only profession protected by name in the Constitution,” said Elizabeth Donald, president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists. “The First Amendment is not a whimsical, academic concept to be dismissed when it becomes inconvenient — or embarrassing to the police. The chilling effect of assaulting, arresting, jailing and charging a journalist in the course of his duties cannot be understated.”

The 121 people arrested on Sunday ranged in age from 17 to 64. They included 50 black men, 38 white men, 20 white women and 13 black women. All but 10 had addresses in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The out-of-town people included two each from Kansas City and Chicago, and one each from New York; Pennellville, N.Y.; Jacksonville, Ill.; San Francisco; Denver; and Memphis, Tenn. A total of 161 arrests have been made from Friday through Sunday, according to police records.

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