New York Times - Business

Journalist Charged With Rioting at Inauguration Day Protest Goes Free

Mr. Wood had primarily worked as a commercial photographer but had been trying to build his portfolio as a photojournalist when he went to cover the J20 protest.

Leading up to Inauguration Day, Mr. Wood sent emails to editors in San Antonio, including one to an editor at Rivard Report, a local news website. One email read, “Just checking in. Got any assignments you want to throw at me?” In another, Mr. Wood said he was interested in focusing on “street friction, protest and support and police.”

Mr. Wood live-streamed the event on Facebook, which ended up being a prime piece of evidence in the case — both for the prosecution and his defense.

The Facebook video showed Mr. Wood documenting the protest as it turned violent, and into what the government classified as a riot. Mr. Wood can be seen taking photographs and is heard letting out cries of “Whoo!” as he documents protesters vandalizing property. He also identifies himself as a journalist and flashes a press pass.

In their closing argument, Jennifer Kerkhoff and Rizwan Qureshi, the assistant United States attorneys, said that by attending the riot and wearing black, Mr. Wood and his fellow defendants were intent on destruction. Mr. Qureshi told the jury that Mr. Wood and the five others who stood trial “agreed to destroy your city, and now they’re hiding behind the First Amendment.”

After the verdict was announced, the U.S. Attorneys Office for the District of Columbia released a statement that said, in part, “We appreciate the jury’s close examination of the individual conduct and intent of each defendant during this trial and respect its verdict.”

During the trial Mr. Cohen asserted that the government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Wood intended to recruit demonstrators with his live-stream. The video, which now has more than 4,300 views on Mr. Wood’s Facebook page, did not reach many people when it was live. At points during the broadcast Mr. Wood said that only one or two people were tuned in.

“What we found most troubling was that the prosecutors argued the fact that Alexei filming meant he was supporting it and made him more complicit,” said Alexandra Ellerbeck, the North America program coordinator for Committee to Protect Journalists. “I think those arguments didn’t hold up and the jury very clearly saw through them.”

Mr. Wood is one of 32 journalists who were arrested in 2017, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

“We’re happy that this ordeal is finally over for Alexei Wood,” Ms. Ellerbeck said. “The fact that this went to trial in the first place, where there was clearly nothing there, was already problematic.”

Correction: December 21, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of counts faced by a journalist, Alexei Wood, who was arrested while covering a protest of Donald J. Trump’s inauguration. He faced seven counts, not five. The article also quoted incorrectly Brett E. Cohen, a lawyer for Alexei Wood. Mr. Cohen said, “In these times of press persecution, I feel this is an important victory,” not “in these times of press prosecution.”

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