Prosecutor gives up on interference case against citizen journalist


Prosecutors in Fort Bend County, Texas, have given up on their campaign to convict a citizen journalist who was singled out by police and arrested from among a number of other reporters at the scene of a police response.

The Institute for Justice notes, however, that the federal lawsuit by journalist Justin Pulliam against authorities in the county continues.

But they no longer will be prosecuting him for misdemeanor offenses.

The decision came after a hung jury in a trial, in which five jurors decided on acquittal, and one held out for a conviction.

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The institute explained the county now has dropped charges that Pulliam interfered with police officers.

Should citizen journalism be permitted?

“We’re supposed to enjoy liberty and justice for all, to be able to speak our beliefs, but prosecutors can violate the Constitution with retaliatory prosecutions to silence political opposition. It’s alarming and outrageous,” Pulliam said in a statement released by the institute.

“I was saved only by a jury of my peers, who stopped the political persecution after watching the video—my video—that showed exactly what happened.”

The background is that he was arrested in December 2021 while recording the Fort Bend County sheriff’s office’s response to a mental health call. Justin had permission from the property owner and was nowhere close to the scene.

“But then-Sgt. Taylor Rollins, a defendant in Justin’s free speech challenge, arrested him within 60 seconds of arriving on scene because Justin questioned why he was being ordered off scene while others were allowed to stay,” the organization confirmed.

He filed his lawsuit in December 2022, and shortly later, the state prosecutor took him to trial for allegedly interfering with Rollins.

That resulted in the mistrial.

“Those five jurors got it right,” explained IJ lawyer Jeff Rowes. “Not only did Justin not break the law, his arrest was blatantly unconstitutional and a threat to citizen journalists everywhere. The DA never should have prosecuted in the first place and it was right to drop the charges now.”

A federal court already has rejected the sheriff’s claim that the resulting First Amendment lawsuit by Pulliam should be dismissed.

The IJ said, “Justin’s lawsuit with IJ seeks to protect First Amendment rights in two ways. First, the public is allowed to record police subject only to reasonable restrictions. Again, Justin was far from interfering with police activities. Second, government officials cannot treat independent journalists differently from members of the established media or other members of the public. The deputy who arrested Justin singled him out from others on the scene just because Justin was recording.”

The IJ noted, “As part of his project to instill more accountability and transparency into the actions of public officials, Justin tracks calls on a scanner and drives to the scene to document law enforcement responses. His particular focus is on recording calls where no one was accused of a crime, such as mental health checks. Afterward, his videos are uploaded onto his YouTube channel, Corruption Report. Justin’s viewpoint is clear: He is suspicious of authority and doesn’t take kindly to government officials who want to hide from the public.”

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