Ohio’s attorney general has dropped charges against Evan Lambert, a D.C.-based, openly gay NewsNation reporter who was tackled and arrested for doing a live broadcast during a press conference held by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine regarding the derailment of a train containing hazardous materials.
Lambert was arrested and charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest after an officer from the Ohio National Guard — aided by local police from East Palestine, Ohio — took issue with his decision to conduct a live shot while the governor was talking.
In the preceding days, authorities had issued an order that residents of the town, and nearby areas in Ohio and Pennsylvania, evacuate in order to allow responders to release and burn some of the chemicals that were being transported on the train. DeWine was providing an update on the derailment and announcing the lifting of the evacuation order when Lambert went on air.
Local police officers and Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers, along with the Ohio National Guard general, confronted Lambert, telling him to stop talking. He complied and signed off, but was arrested soon after.
As The Advocate‘s Christopher Wiggins reports, Ohio National Guard Maj. Gen. John Harris claimed that Lambert threatened him and advanced toward him after signing off, prompting Harris to try and protect himself, and necessitating the involvement of East Palestine police officers.
But body camera video from an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper, which was shared worldwide on social media, contradicted Harris’s account, showing that it was Harris who shoved his finger in Lamber’s chest and became enraged as officers tried to separate the men and order Lambert out of the gymnasium.
Lambert protested, arguing he was doing his job, when he was forced outside and tackled to the ground by officers before being arrested and charged with two misdemeanors.
DeWine, who was asked about the incident afterwards, told reporters that he did not authorize Lambert’s arrest and stated that journalists have “every right” to carry out their duties without interference.
But those charges have since been dropped, according to a press release from the office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.
“My office has reviewed the relevant video and documentary evidence, and is dismissing the charges against Evan Lambert as unsupported by sufficient evidence,” Yost said in a statement. “While journalists could conceivably be subject to criminal charges for trespassing in some situations, this incident is not one of them. The reporter was lawfully present at a press conference called by the Governor of the state. His conduct was consistent with the purpose of the event and his role as a reporter.”
Yost added that tensions had been running high among law enforcement and first responders following the derailment, and that local police officers appeared to be following the lead of the National Guard — in this case, Harris.
“Regardless of the intent, arresting a journalist reporting at a press conference is a serious matter,” Yost added. “Ohio protects a free press under its constitution, and state officials should remember to exercise a heightened level of restraint in using arrest powers.”
Lambert, who has been off the air since his arrest, issued a statement thanking DeWine and Yost for recognizing he had been wrongfully arrested.
“I am grateful to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Attorney General Dave Yost, the management and legal team at NewsNation and Nexstar Media Group, and anyone else who worked to secure my release and the eventual dismissal of my charges, which, to be clear, should never have been filed in the first place,” he said.
“I’m still processing what was a traumatic event for me, in the context of a time where we are hyper-aware of how frequently some police interactions with people of color can end in much worse circumstances,” Lambert, who is Black, added. “That is not lost on me.
“I also hope what happened to me shines further attention on the people of East Palestine, who rightly have questions about their safety in light of an environmental hazard,” he concluded.
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