U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

NC editor jailed after reporter records court proceedings

Incident Details

Date of Incident
June 22, 2021

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
North Carolina Superior Court
  • Contempt of court
    • Jun. 22, 2021: Convicted
    • Jul. 14, 2021: Pending appeal
    • Apr. 1, 2022: Convicted
Release Date
Unnecessary use of force?
Equipment Seized
Status of Seized Equipment
In custody
Search Warrant Obtained
April 1, 2022 - Update

NC journalist completes community service, writes apology letter

Gavin Stone, an editor for the Richmond County Daily Journal, confirmed to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in 2022 that he reached a settlement agreement after violating North Carolina court proceeding rules in 2021.

In June 2021, Stone incorrectly told fellow Daily Journal reporter Matthew Sasser that Sasser could bring a tape recorder into a courtroom while covering a murder trial, which violated state rules on recording proceedings. Both journalists were charged with contempt of court.

Stone said after serving 24 hours in jail he was released on a technicality and avoided additional jail time after his lawyer negotiated a deal “to put the situation to bed.”

Under the settlement agreement, Stone completed 20 hours community service in April 2022 and submitted a formal apology letter to the court and Resident Superior Court Judge Stephan Futrell, who had filed the June 2021 charges against the journalists. The Daily Journal was also compelled to run a quarterly advertisement advising people on the rules of the court.

Stone told the Tracker that the court confiscated his recording device, which he had lent to Sasser, when he was sentenced in 2021. Because it was never returned, the Tracker is cross-listing the incident under the Equipment Search and Seizure category.

June 22, 2021

Gavin Stone, an editor for the Richmond County Daily Journal, was charged on June 22, 2021, with criminal contempt of court for violating an administrative order that forbade the use of electronic equipment in the courtroom, according to the charging document reviewed by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Stone was charged along with Daily Journal reporter Matthew Sasser, who had brought a tape recorder into a courtroom while covering a murder trial. Stone acknowledged that he incorrectly instructed Sasser that he could bring a tape recorder into court, according to court documents and Brian Bloom, the newspaper’s regional publisher, who spoke with CPJ. CPJ is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Both Sasser and Stone acknowledged that they violated an August 2019 bar on electronic devices, but said they did not correctly understand that tape recorders were also prohibited inside the courtroom, according to the court document.

The Associated Press reported that, under North Carolina law, courts can punish someone for criminal contempt if they had previously been warned by the court that the conduct was improper.

Stone had in January 2020 received notice in a letter from Chief District Court Judge Amanda Wilson claiming he had violated the August 2019 order by photographing in the courtroom and publishing that image in the Daily Journal.

Resident Superior Court Judge Stephan Futrell, who filed the June 2021 charges against the journalists, sentenced Stone to five days in prison and jailed the editor immediately following the hearing, according to Bloom and the AP. Stone told the Tracker he was released after approximately 24 hours in custody.

Sasser was fined $500, the maximum allowed, according to the same sources. The Tracker has documented his charges here.

An attorney representing the journalists filed an immediate appeal, securing Stone’s release, according to the AP. Futrell lifted the initial penalties and the editor and reporter will appear before an appeals court in August, Bloom told CPJ. If their convictions are upheld, each could face a fine up to $500, 30 days in prison or both, according to the court document.

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