U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalist arrested while covering Virginia campus protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 4, 2024

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
Virginia State Police
Charges
  • Trespassing
    • May. 4, 2024: Charges pending
    • May. 15, 2024: Charges dropped
Detention Date
Unnecessary use of force?
No
COURTESY SARA WILMSEN

Journalist Evan Urquhart, on ground at rear in yellow jacket, was arrested by Virginia State Police while covering a protest on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville on May 4, 2024.

— COURTESY SARA WILMSEN
May 4, 2024

Journalist Evan Urquhart was arrested while covering a Virginia State Police operation to clear pro-Palestinian protesters from the University of Virginia’s campus in Charlottesville on May 4, 2024.

Students had set up an encampment on a university lawn April 30 to protest Israel’s war in Gaza and call for the school to divest its endowment from Israel, according to Virginia Public Media. After protesters erected tents to shelter from rain on the night of May 3, in violation of what the university said was school policy, state police in riot gear moved in the next day to clear the encampment. At least 25 protesters and onlookers were arrested.

Urquhart, a freelance journalist and founder of news website Assigned Media, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker via email that he had visited the encampment for a potential story around five times, to “look around, looking for things like anti-semitic signs or chants, counter-protesters, and of course police activity.”

“I was very careful all of the times I went, including on May 4, to identify myself clearly as press and avoid anything that could be construed as participating in the protest or showing support for the protest,” he told the Tracker. “I told anyone who asked my name, my website's name, and some of the outlets where I'd freelanced in the past.”

When he arrived at the campus May 4 to cover the protest, the journalist said that police had already separated the encampment itself from a gathering crowd of onlookers and protesters.

Urquhart ended up at the front of the crowd, straining to see around the police line and taking photos. He said he was wearing a name tag with “PRESS” handwritten on it and told the police he was a journalist. “This not being my usual beat, I realize now my positioning was bad to avoid what happened after the encampment itself was cleared,” he added.

He went on to describe how the police line pushed forward, moving the crowd of onlookers back. “Near the start of that process I was pushed over by one of the police officers as he moved forward, and then arrested after I fell.” The journalist added that he had “no reason to think the officer intended to push me down,” saying, “I may have been distracted or I may have tripped as I tried to step back, maybe both.”

Urquhart said he was charged with misdemeanor trespassing and released five or six hours after his arrest. The charges were dropped May 15, after the district attorney said there wasn’t enough evidence to justify proceeding with the case.

He said he also received a no trespass order from the university May 4, denying him access to the campus grounds. “Until that moment I hadn't heard anything about trespassing from the police or through any sort of sign or alert,” Urquhart said.

He said he appealed the order May 9 and it was lifted May 15.

The Virginia State Police did not respond to a request for comment.

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