Update: On May 26, 2021, the Alamance County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against Tomas Murawski.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 26 media organizations are urging the Graham Police Department in North Carolina to drop charges against a local news reporter who was recently arrested while reporting on a demonstration.
Tomas Murawski, a reporter for the Alamance News, was arrested after being ordered to leave the street where he was photographing law enforcement’s response to a march to Alamance County polls on Oct. 31. Police charged Murawski with resisting, delaying or obstructing a public officer.
In a Nov. 4 letter to Graham police officials and the Alamance County district attorney’s office, however, the Reporters Committee emphasized that recordings of the incident show no sign that Murawski resisted officers. Nor did they show that he was given a chance to comply with the order to move before his arrest.
The public and press have a First Amendment right to record and document police activities. Any orders to move on or disperse must be tailored to accommodate lawful newsgathering and must, at an absolute minimum, be accompanied by fair warning and reasonable opportunity to comply.
As the Reporters Committee stated in the letter, “[T]here is no serious question that officers should have known that Mr. Murawski, whose camera they grabbed while bystanders chanted ‘He’s press,’ was present in his capacity as a journalist.”
The Reporters Committee is urging the department to offer a public explanation of Murawski’s arrest and to take immediate steps to protect other reporters in Graham who engage in lawful newsgathering.