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Charges dropped against Dartmouth journalists arrested while covering protests

A crowd of people form a ring around a tent on a campus green
Olivia Richardson
/
NHPR
Dartmouth students protesting on the Dartmouth Green on May 1.

Prosecutors are declining to press ahead on criminal trespassing charges against two student journalists who were arrested during Palestinian solidarity protests at Dartmouth College last week.

Charlotte Hampton, a managing editor for The Dartmouth, and Alesandra “Dre” Gonzales, a reporter and photographer for the same news outlet, were among nearly 90 people charged in connection with the demonstrations on May 1. They told NHPR they were arrested while observing a prominent history professor “being sort of pinned to the ground and put in zip ties.” The night of the demonstrations, police ordered people to vacate repeatedly, but Hampton said they received permission to stay from an official with the school’s communications office, who was also on site.

Initially, a college spokesperson suggested the school would let the charges against Hampton and Gonzales play out in court.

“We understand The Dartmouth staff members who were taken into custody believe that occurred in error,” senior vice president for communications Justin Anderson told the student newspaper. “We stand behind their right to vindicate that belief through the legal process.”

But earlier this week, facing outcry from press freedom advocates, Dartmouth President Sian Beilock said the students who were present “to report on the protests should not have been arrested for doing their jobs” and committed to “working with local authorities to ensure this error is corrected.” The school has not announced whether it will ask prosecutors to drop charges for other students and faculty who were arrested that night.

On Wednesday, The Dartmouth reported that the state now says in court filings that it “does not believe it can prove the charges against [the student journalists] beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Gonzales said she’s grateful she and her editor will not be prosecuted, but she’s still watching to see what happens to other students.

“I think that a big point of contention on campus is will or won't their charges be dropped,” she said.

Gonzales said one of the biggest complications she faced following her arrest was not being able to access the Dartmouth Green, the area where the protests took place, as a condition of her bail.

“Being arrested, in my identity as a journalist, has had more crossover implications into other parts of my life because I'm reporting and living and going to school all directly in the same space,” Gonzales said.

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But she said the arrest and its aftermath hasn’t deterred her from working in journalism. She said it has only emboldened her.

“I’ve always known that the First Amendment — specifically to this context of the freedom of the press — was something I was very passionate about and something I cared about, and that’s what led me into the field,” Gonzales said. “I think the experience of being arrested has made me more fired up about doing my job.”

Mike Heistand, legal counsel with the Student Press Law Center, is also breathing a sigh of relief. His organization, which advocates for the rights of student journalists, was among those calling for charges to be dropped.

He praised the courage of the journalists who were working to document what was happening on their campus, including the arrests of peers and faculty.

“It's unfortunate it took as long as it did,” Heistand said. “I know the students there were freaking out, having never been arrested before, been through this process before and they felt they were just doing their jobs. So there’s a lot of relief that it all kind of worked itself out.”

Olivia joins us from WLVR/Lehigh Valley Public Media, where she covered the Easton area in eastern Pennsylvania. She has also reported for WUWM in Milwaukee and WBEZ in Chicago.