- Date of Incident
- October 31, 2022
- Arrest Status
- Arrested and released
- Arresting Authority
- Pike County Sheriff's Office
Wiretapping: interception of wire, oral or electronic communications
- Oct. 31, 2022: Charges pending
- Aug. 10, 2023: Charges dropped
- Wiretapping: interception of wire, oral or electronic communications
- Unnecessary use of force?
Wiretapping charge against Ohio editor dropped after more than nine months
The felony wiretapping charge against Scioto Valley Guardian Editor-in-Chief Derek Myers was dropped on Aug. 10, 2023, nearly 300 days after a warrant was issued for his arrest on the charge.
In fall 2022, Myers was reporting on a murder trial in Waverly, Ohio, which included using a laptop to livestream witness testimony and exhibits. After the judge in the case had issued an order barring video or audio recording of a witness, someone in the courtroom surreptitiously recorded the testimony and sent it to the Guardian.
The Guardian published a condensed version of the audio on Oct. 28, and that day a judge signed a search warrant for the laptop used to stream the trial. Three days later, the Pike County Sheriff’s Office charged Myers with interception of wire, electronic or oral communications, a fourth degree felony.
He pleaded not guilty and waived a preliminary hearing. The case was supposed to then be heard by a grand jury, which would determine whether to indict him on the charges, but over the following nine months the prosecutor did not present the case.
Myers told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that on Aug. 14, 2023, he received a letter from the Pike County Court of Common Pleas informing him that the charge against him was dismissed during a hearing four days prior. He confirmed to the Tracker that neither he nor his attorneys were informed that a hearing had been set, but knew that the state’s deadline for prosecuting him had lapsed.
Myers told the Tracker that though he’s now free of the charges, the damage to his personal reputation and that of the Guardian has already been done.
“Our finances have tanked in this small town with advertisers. No one wants to do business with a supposed-criminal,” Myers said.
In addition, the newspaper’s equipment is still in law enforcement custody. “As of now, there is no communication from authorities or any word on when, if ever, the equipment will be returned,” said Greg Barwell, an attorney representing the Guardian’s parent company, NewsPatrol, Inc.
Myers said he intends to file a civil right lawsuit in order to set a precedent that will protect other journalists from going through something similar.
“We’re not asking for a lot when we say we want to set a precedent,” Myers said. “We’re only asking that authorities follow federal law that outlines protections for journalists.”
Scioto Valley Guardian Editor-in-Chief Derek Myers was charged with felony wiretapping on Oct. 31, 2022, after publishing a recording of witness testimony from an ongoing trial in Waverly, Ohio.
Myers told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he has been covering the murder trial of George Wagner IV, which began in September. As part of that coverage, the newspaper was using a laptop to livestream witness testimony and exhibits. Judge Randy Deering issued an order before the trial began allowing anyone testifying in the case to “opt out” of being filmed by the media. The Fourth District Court of Appeals issued an emergency order overruling him partway through the testimony of Wagner’s brother, Jake, who was indicted alongside Wagner and their parents for the 2016 killings of eight members of the Rhoden family.
The court ordered that media be allowed to film unless Deering was able to show cause that it could jeopardize the fairness of the trial. Deering ruled that if Jake were to appear on camera he might be “nervous” and untruthful, again barring media from recording video or audio of him.
Myers told the Tracker that he was out of the country when Jake took the stand, but that someone in the courtroom surreptitiously recorded his testimony and provided it to the Guardian. After deliberation, Myers published a condensed version of the audio on Oct. 28.
According to files reviewed by the Tracker, Judge Anthony Moraleja approved a search warrant that day for a Guardian laptop being used to livestream the trial. The Tracker documented the laptop seizure and the illegal seizure of Myers’ cellphone here.
The Pike County Sheriff’s Office subsequently charged Myers with interception of wire, electronic or oral communications, a fourth degree felony. According to court records, he was charged under Ohio Revised Code Section 2933.52 (A)(3), which forbids the use of a recording that one knows or has reason to believe was illegally obtained.
Myers turned himself into custody on Nov. 1 and was released after paying a $20,000 bond. He told the Tracker that he pleaded not guilty at a hearing the following day. He also waived his right to a preliminary hearing, where evidence is presented before a judge who decides whether the case should advance to trial. Instead, his case will be heard by a grand jury, which will determine whether to indict him on the charges.
When reached for comment, the Pike County Prosecutor’s Office told the Tracker that the next grand jury session is scheduled to begin in February 2023, when the new prosecutor takes office.
One of Myers’ attorneys, John Greiner, highlighted the Supreme Court ruling in Bartnicki v. Vopper, which ruled that the media cannot be held liable for publishing information that was obtained illegally by a source.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the Tracker, condemned the equipment seizure and the charges against Myers in a statement.
“The incompetency of local law enforcement to abide by basic legal proceedings would be comical if it were not so concerning,” said CPJ U.S. and Canada Program Coordinator Katherine Jacobsen. “Not only have Pike County authorities confiscated journalist Derek Myers’ cellphone and the Scioto Valley Guardian’s laptop without presenting a valid warrant, but they have also lobbed wiretapping charges against Myers for keeping the community informed about an ongoing murder trial. Retaliating against a news outlet, especially a small local publication, for doing their jobs in matters of public interest is completely unacceptable.”
Myers told the Tracker he hasn’t been able to cover the trial since his arrest.
“I tasked myself with covering this eight-week trial and I should be there covering it, but I can’t because I don’t have the equipment,” Myers said. “And, frankly, I don’t feel safe in that courthouse. If I take another cellphone down there they’ll probably seize that too.”