City to drop charges against 3 covering Occupy Atlanta protest

The City of Atlanta is expected to ask a judge to drop charges against three student photo journalists arrested nearly a year ago during Occupy Atlanta protests at a downtown park.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed indicated the city’s intentions Saturday during a question-and-answer session after speaking to regional members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists at a conference in Dunwoody.

City Solicitor Raines Carter confirmed Sunday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the city will file a motion to ask that the charges against Judy Kim of Georgia State University’s Signal newspaper, Alisen Redmon of Kennesaw State University’s Sentinel Newspaper and Creative Loafing intern Stephanie Pharr be dropped.

The three journalists were charged with obstruction of traffic Nov. 5 after police said they refused to move from a protest area at Woodruff Park.

“This is fabulous news,” Sandra Michaels, the attorney for the three women, said Sunday when reached in Puerto Rico. “I felt extremely confident that we were going to win. We had the facts on our side.”

Michaels said the arrests were “disruptive and upsetting to their lives. I’m extremely proud of these young women for their willingness to fight the charges.”

The Occupy Atlanta protest was one of several during which demonstrators camped out at Woodruff to speak out against a range of social problems. It was similar to Occupy protests in other major cities and an outgrowth of the protests that originally targeted Wall Street.

The student photo journalists spent about 14 hours in the Atlanta jail and received the citations despite identifying themselves as journalists and standing on a street that police had closed off to traffic, according to the Student Press Law Center, an advocacy group.

They appeared in Atlanta Municipal Court this past August, when they presented their press credentials and advisers spoke in their behalf. The students argued that the arrests infringed on their First Amendment free speech rights and have filed motions that the charges be dismissed.

On Oct. 1, six national organizations for journalists asked Reed to have the charges dismissed.

Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said the case is “especially egregious because it appears that these photojournalists were specifically targeted by police because of their age and youthful appearance.”

Other groups condemning the arrests include the American Society of News Editors, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Atlanta Press Club, CNN, the American Society of Media Photographers and the Student Press Law Center.

Sonny Albarado, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, said it was clear from video and witness accounts that “no public-safety justification existed to arrest pedestrians in a hasty and indiscriminate manner.” He said officers had ample time to make a distinction between “a person causing a disturbance and a person peacefully recording police activity as part of a bona fide news organization.”

“To continue to prosecute the case against these journalists adds to the harassment and intimidation they suffered when arrested in November,” Albarado wrote.

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