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Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Amid unrest in Ferguson, AU student journalist arrested and detained

Trey Yingst expected to encounter police in Ferguson, Missouri, this week, but he got more than he bargained for when he briefly found himself in police custody on the night of Nov. 22.

Yingst, a junior in the School of Communication, is in Ferguson representing News2Share, the multimedia news operation he co-founded with SOC junior Ford Fischer to cover local, national and international news. Yingst spent Nov. 20-22 investigating the role of drugs like heroin and oxycontin in some of the more violent protests inspired by the death of 18 year-old Michael Brown.

“I was really trying to go deeper into the community and find the real issues that affect people,” Yingst said.

On the night of Nov. 22, Yingst covered the protests with approximately 50 credentialed journalists while stationed in the Ferguson police station. Around 11:40 p.m., he decided to make his way down the street from the station to shoot video of a small skirmish erupting between protesters and riot police.

Wearing his media credentials and carrying a digital camera, Yingst stopped on the sidewalk to start filming. After he took his place, riot police walked toward him, telling the protesters to get out of the street, all while the commanding officer yelled at Yingst to cross the street to the other sidewalk. Yingst said he didn’t respond right away because he thought the police were asking the protesters to get out of the street.

Yingst heard the officer shout “Lock him up,” and then another officer arrested him on the spot. Later, other police officers told Yingst that the policeman had been asking him to get off the sidewalk and cross the street to the other side, he said.

“I was surprised that I was being arrested because one, I was a member of the media, and two, I was just standing on the sidewalk,” Yingst said.

According to Yingst, the police returned a handcuffed Yingst to the police station, placed him in a van and sent him to the local jail in St. Louis County. During the ride, Yingst said he asked the officer several times what he had done wrong, but no one gave him an answer.

After three hours at the local jail, he was released without bail.

“I was surprised that I was being arrested because one, I was a member of the media, and two, I was just standing on the sidewalk,” Yingst said.

“It never crossed my mind that I would be arrested for exercising my First Amendment rights,” Yingst said. “You think you’re being protected by the Constitution, but there’s clearly times when your rights are violated.”

Yingst was cited for class B misdemeanors for unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse, according to a representative from the St. Louis County Justice Department Services.

Missouri law defines “unlawful assembly” as a gathering of six or more people with the intent to violate the law, according to a Missouri statute. The law defines “refusal to disperse” as intentional refusal to leave the scene of an unlawful assembly upon police request, according to a Missouri statute.

Yingst may receive a summons for a court hearing within the next 30 or 60 days, according to dispatcher Richards from the St. Louis County Police Department. The police department did not respond to a request for an arrest report in time of publication.

Yingst said he isn’t sure if this charge will stay on his record.

According to Frank Lomonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, Yingst’s account suggests a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of the press. As long as he stood on the sidewalk, Yingst did not commit a crime, Lomonte said.

“From all initial indications, the arrest appears to be an overreaction, and if it was motivated by an intent to prevent Yingst from gathering news, then it violated the First Amendment and can be the basis of legal action against the responsible officer,” Lomonte said.

While an arrest violates AU’s Student Conduct Code, AU has the authority to decide whether a violation of the law poses a significant threat to the AU community, according to AU Director of Public Relations Kelly Alexander.

“In this instance, AU does not anticipate any Student Conduct Code charges will be considered,” Alexander said in an email.

Yingst originally planned to leave Ferguson on Nov. 23 but delayed his departure until Thanksgiving so he can continue reporting.

“I don’t think that [the arrest has] changed my outlook on journalism,” Yingst said. “I’m here to do one job and that’s tell stories of other people. I think that’s still my outlook. Being detained and arrested for trying to tell the stories of other people isn’t the thing I expected, but it happened and it’s something that I’ve already moved forward from. Now I’m ready to get out there and start reporting again.”

Disclaimer: Trey Yingst has previously written an article and contributed videos to The Eagle.

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