Journalist arrested while covering North Carolina protest

August 9, 2020

Police arrested freelancer Veronica Coit, who was covering protests in Asheville, North Carolina, on Aug. 9, 2020, and charged the journalist with “failure to disperse on command” and impeding the flow of traffic with a vehicle.

The Aug. 9 demonstration was held to protest police brutality and the death of John Elliott Neville, who died in 2019 after a medical episode led to him being restrained in handcuffs by corrections officers in a North Carolina jail. Video of Neville in custody with the corrections officers was not released until August 2020.

Coit arrived at the protest around 6 p.m., the journalist wrote in an account on the local website The Asheville Blade. According to a published note from editor David Forbes, Coit had been working for the news outlet since June as a freelance journalist and videographer, helping to document local events and protests in the city.

Around an hour after arriving, Coit wrote, the demonstrators began to march and the journalist followed them by car because of a medical condition that makes walking difficult. Coit was following the protesters along Haywood Street near the intersection with College Street, with car hazard lights flashing, when a police siren sounded. “There was a large crowd in front of me, parked cars on the street, and other cars beside me too, I couldn’t exactly go anywhere at that moment,” Coit wrote. “I was moving, but slowly. The next thing I see is a cop at my passenger door, ripping it open with no warning.”

In a video of the incident posted to YouTube by a bystander, a police officer is seen pulling Coit out of the car by the arm as Coit says, “I haven’t done anything illegal…I’m press, you want my press credentials?” Coit repeatedly yells “you are arresting a member of the press” as police zip tie the journalist’s hands and lead Coit away. After being arrested and spending five hours in jail, Coit was released and charged with failing to disperse on command and impeding the steady flow of traffic, the journalist wrote.

In a statement by the Asheville Police Department that was reported by local media outlets, the department said that it had “asked organizers to follow traffic laws, not block or obstruct streets, and remain on the sidewalks. Organizers were notified that individuals violating these laws would be arrested.” The APD said it had arrested five people, including Coit, on charges of failing to disperse on command and for traffic infractions. Police officials said Coit was “asked by law enforcement several times to not block the intersection,” according to the local daily the Citizen-Times.

In the account for the Blade, Coit wrote of being left with bruises after the incident and of being mistreated by officers and subjected to an unnecessary body search during detention. According to the Citizen-Times, representatives of the APD later called to ask if Coit wanted to make a complaint. The paper said Coit declined to do so, believing it would not have any effect. The department also said Coit was welcome to review body cam footage of the incident, the Citizen-Times reported. Coit told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in an email that a hearing on the charges is scheduled for early 2021.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

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

September 9, 2021 Update

All charges against freelance journalist Veronica Coit were dropped on Sept. 9, 2021, more than a year after they were arrested, according to The Asheville Blade.

Coit was on assignment for The Blade covering protests in Asheville, North Carolina, on Aug. 9, 2020, when officers forcefully pulled them out of their vehicle and placed them under arrest despite Coit repeatedly identifying themself as a journalist. Coit was charged with “failure to disperse on command” and impeding the flow of traffic with a vehicle.

The Blade announced via Twitter that all charges against Coit had been dropped.

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