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Brooklyn journalists face felony rioting charges for inauguration protest coverage

Hot topic: Some protesters burned a limousine while covering inauguration protests on Jan. 20.
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Three Brooklynites were among six journalists arrested and hit with felony rioting charges while covering inauguration protests in the nation’s capital on Jan. 20.

Police dropped the charges against Ditmas Park resident Evan Engel of website Vocativ a week later last Friday — and similarly cleared three other journalists on Monday — but freelance reporter Aaron Miguel Cantu of Crown Heights and activist photojournalist Shay Horse are still facing 10-year prison sentences and $25,000 fines.

It’s a ridiculous rap that threatens to silence reporters in the future, say press freedom advocates.

“The charges against the journalists were clearly excessive and inappropri­ate,” said Carlos Lauria of press freedom group the Committee to Protect Journalists. “They could send a chilling message to reporters who will be covering future protests.”

Cantu, who has written for the Nation and Gothamist, and Horse, a budding shutterbug and self-described “anarchist,” were near where a group of anti-Trump protesters smashed windows and lit trashcans and a limousine on fire, when police encircled more than 200 in the area and arrested them en masse.

Authorities haven’t accused either man of any specific actions, according to court documents — they submitted identical statements for both that generally describe the actions of some 300 protesters and accused the pair of either joining in or encouraging the chaos.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia would not say why it dropped the same charges against four reporters but not Cantu and Horse.

“We have no comment on other individuals whose cases are pending,” said spokesman Bill Miller.

Citizens should be concerned that reporters were arrested while covering such a big event, said Lauria — if for no other reason than because it obstructs their own ability to stay informed.

“I think it’s important that the people are able to be informed that, while the new president was being sworn in, more than 200 people were being arrested, there were protestors who set a car on fire and broke windows,” he said.

Both Cantu and Horse declined to comment, and Engel also said he still can’t speak just yet, but tweeted that his “thoughts are with all journalists still charged” after he was cleared.

Their hearings are set for mid-March.

Reach deputy editor Ruth Brown at rbrown@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8309. Follow her at twitter.com/rbbrown.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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