Charges Dropped Against Reporter Arrested at Ohio News Conference on Train Derailment
Charges Dropped Against Reporter Arrested at Ohio News Conference on Train Derailment

By Janice Hisle

Criminal charges have been dropped against a reporter who was arrested while covering an Ohio news conference about the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals.

On Feb. 15, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced that NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert would no longer face charges stemming from his arrest on Feb. 8, five days after a train loaded with toxic chemicals derailed and ignited in a small rural town near the Pennsylvania border.

Lambert was doing a live broadcast from East Palestine, Ohio, where Gov. Mike DeWine was discussing lifting an evacuation order.

Residents were told to leave their homes while officials allowed a “controlled burn” to continue for days amid the wreckage. They hoped to avert an explosion, but the blaze spewed dense smoke and toxic fumes into the air.

Police accused Lambert of being too loud, distracting from DeWine’s news conference. They said they asked him to leave, but he refused, leading to his arrest on charges of criminal trespassing and resisting arrest.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in Bexley, Ohio, on Aug. 6, 2020. (Jay LaPrete/AP)

More Restraint With Reporters Urged

But Yost’s office said his office reviewed videos and other documentation about the incident, finding that the charges were “unsupported by sufficient evidence.”

“While journalists could conceivably be subject to criminal charges for trespassing in some situations, this incident is not one of them,” Yost said in a news release.

“The reporter was lawfully present at a press conference called by the governor of the state. His conduct was consistent with the purpose of the event and his role as a reporter.”

Yost said tensions were running high in the days following the derailment and that local officials appeared to be following the lead of the National Guard.

“Regardless of the intent, arresting a journalist reporting at a press conference is a serious matter,” Yost said.

“Ohio protects a free press under its constitution, and state officials should remember to exercise a heightened level of restraint in using arrest powers.”

Ohio has a specific law regarding “misconduct at an emergency,” saying that nothing in the law should be “construed to limit access or deny information to any news media representative in the lawful exercise of the news media representative’s duties.”

Since Lambert’s arrest, protesters lined the streets in East Palestine to support him and DeWine has publicly denounced the arrest saying it should never have happened. 

Some called for the local sheriff to resign; they also rallied for two deputies to be fired for their part in the incident.

Attorney General Dave Yost in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 6, 2018. (Justin Merriman/Getty Images)

Reporter Calls Arrest ‘Traumatic’

Lambert posted a reaction on Twitter saying he was having a hard time expressing his thoughts.

“I’m still processing what was a traumatic event for me, in the context of a time where we are hyper-aware of how frequently some police interactions with people of color can end in much worse circumstances. That is not lost on me,” Lambert wrote.

“At the same time, as a journalist who has spent more than a decade covering crime, courts, and more recently federal law enforcement, I have great respect for the officers who do their jobs each day with integrity, civil rights, justice, and safety at the core of their mission.”

He thanked all who supported him, including DeWine and Yost, along with the management and legal team of his employer. Lambert was also grateful to “anyone else who worked to secure my release and the eventual dismissal of my charges, which to be clear, should never have been filed in the first place.”

Lambert applauded the many social media messages that encouraged the upholding of “our foundational First Amendment freedoms.”

As a reporter, Lambert said he never wanted to become the focus of a news story. “In my case, I truly did not choose this, and anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I do not want nor relish in any of this extra attention.”

Lambert said he’s “doing alright” and will remain committed to doing his job “without fear or favor, in service of the public.”

“I also hope what happened to me shines further attention on the people of East Palestine, who rightly have questions about their safety in light of an environmental hazard.”

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