Journalist arrested while covering North Carolina homeless camp eviction

December 25, 2021

Veronica Coit, a reporter for the Asheville Blade, was arrested alongside another Blade reporter while covering a police eviction of a homeless encampment in Asheville, North Carolina, on Dec. 25, 2021.

The Blade reported that Coit, whose pronouns are they/them, arrived at Aston Park after reporter Matilda Bliss discovered that a significant police force had gathered there shortly before 10 p.m. A small encampment in the park was the latest focus of ongoing city efforts to clear Asheville’s homeless populations out of public areas, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.

As officers directed everyone in the camp to “move on” under threat of arrest, Coit and Bliss documented their actions from a distance, according to the Blade.

The outlet reported that one of the officers then pointed toward Coit and said “[they’re] taking pictures.” Five officers then advanced toward Coit and placed them under arrest. Several officers then told Bliss to immediately leave the park or face arrest.

Bliss told the Blade she identified herself as a member of the press multiple times before she, too, was placed under arrest. Blade founder and editor David Forbes told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that while Bliss was wearing a press pass issued by the outlet, Coit did not have their lanyard press pass that night.

“According to the last things [Bliss and Coit] observed, and from sources they later spoke with, APD then grew even more violent, dragging campers out of tents and arresting them,” the Blade reported. “Our journalists were clearly targeted first to remove those who could quickly bring the brutality that followed to the public’s attention.”

Coit and Bliss were each charged with misdemeanor trespassing, which carries a penalty of up to 20 days in jail and a $200 fine. Coit did not respond to requests for comment.

Forbes told the Tracker that Coit was released at approximately 12:15 a.m. on the 26th, but Bliss, whose phone was confiscated, was not released until approximately 1:50 a.m. The Asheville Police Department did not return a call requesting comment.

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrests in a statement on Twitter a few days after the incident:

“Authorities in #Ashville, NC should drop all charges against @AvlBlade reporters Veronica Coit and @matilda_bliss, who were arrested on December 25 We are deeply concerned that @AshevillePolice interfered with their reporting, and unnecessarily confiscated Bliss's phone.”

Forbes told the Tracker that the charges against Bliss and Coit are still pending and they both have hearings scheduled for March 8, 2022.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect that Veronica Coit, who was previously a freelancer for the Asheville Blade, is now a reporter for the news co-op.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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