By Summer Ballentine, AP
Two journalists who were arrested while reporting on protests after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown have settled lawsuits against St. Louis County, the American Civil Liberties Union announced Monday.
The lawsuits claimed the reporters’ rights were violated and that police didn’t have probable cause to arrest them. The journalists covered protests that came in the days and weeks after a white Ferguson police officer fatally shot Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old.
The ACLU of Missouri and the reporters are dismissing the lawsuits after reaching a settlement with St. Louis County, said ALCU spokeswoman Diane Balogh.
As part of the settlements, the county won’t file criminal charges against the reporters and will cooperate with efforts to expunge their arrest records. The county also will pay the ACLU and reporter Gerald “Trey” Yingst a lump sum of $8,500, according to copies of the settlements the ALCU provided.
A spokesman for St. Louis County did not provide comment as of Monday afternoon following multiple requests from The Associated Press.
Yingst, a journalist with Washington, D.C.-based News2Share, said he was unlawfully arrested in November while filming protests after a grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death. New York-based journalist Bilgin Sasmaz said he was wrongfully arrested in August while photographing protests for the Turkish Anadolu Agency.
Sasmaz’s lawsuit claimed he was thrown to the ground by an unidentified county officer and arrested for “refusing to disperse” after photographing a St. Ann police officer who was pointing his rifle at protesters. Sasmaz said he had identified himself as a journalist.
“We hope these settlements indicate that St. Louis County realizes mistakes were made in the arrest of people, including journalists, who were committing no crimes in Ferguson,” Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement. “The First Amendment protects our right to protest and allows the press to document unfolding events so we can draw our own conclusions about the appropriateness of police conduct.”
The announcement of the settlements comes nearly a year after the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown.