Evan Lambert, a journalist for NewsNation, filed a lawsuit on Monday against local government entities and several law enforcement officials in Ohio stemming from his unlawful arrest earlier this year while covering a press conference about the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio.
Lambert, represented by attorneys from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the First Amendment Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, alleges that Columbiana County, the city of East Palestine, and five law enforcement officials violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution and Ohio law.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, argues that those violations were the product of inadequate policies, inadequate training, and the personal participation of key policymaking officials in the decision to arrest and charge Lambert for his newsgathering.
“I’m bringing this lawsuit because journalists should be able to cover newsworthy matters without fear of arrest or retaliation,” Lambert said. “The public had an obvious interest in the response by Ohio officials to the train derailment in East Palestine, and as a journalist, it was my duty to report that information.”
Lambert attended the press conference held by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine days after a train operated by Norfolk Southern derailed in East Palestine on Feb. 5, releasing hazardous materials into the air, soil, and water. As the press conference began, Lambert delivered a live, on-air report to NewsNation viewers. Law enforcement officials ordered Lambert to stop broadcasting and — when Lambert asserted his First Amendment right to cover the press conference — violently arrested him. Lambert was then charged in Columbiana County Municipal Court with trespass and resisting arrest.
DeWine immediately urged prosecutors to drop the charges, saying in public statements that Lambert had “every right” to cover the press conference and that he had not authorized anyone to prohibit live shots or remove Lambert for conducting one. When Ohio’s attorney general later announced that all charges against Lambert would be dismissed, he noted that everything Lambert did that day “was consistent with the event and his role as a reporter” and that the charges were “unsupported by sufficient evidence.”
The lawsuit alleges nine separate violations of Lambert’s rights, including retaliation, interference with newsgathering, false arrest, excessive force, and malicious prosecution. Lambert, who has continued to cover the aftermath of the East Palestine derailment, is asking the court for an injunction restraining the city and county from retaliating against him for his reporting, interfering with his newsgathering, and arresting him without a lawful basis. He is also seeking damages for the violations of his rights.
“Arresting Mr. Lambert while he was doing his job reporting on the governor’s press conference was an affront to Mr. Lambert — and also to the public that had tuned in for an update on the ongoing environmental disaster. As even Ohio’s high-ranking government officials recognized immediately afterwards, Mr. Lambert should have never been arrested,” said Andy Geronimo, Director of the First Amendment Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
“These are very serious violations of Mr. Lambert’s rights under federal and Ohio law, and we hope the city and county will work proactively to resolve this so that no other journalists find themselves in this situation simply for doing their job,” said Katie Townsend, deputy executive director and legal director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.