U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Reporter Alex Stokes charged with rioting at Trump inauguration protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 20, 2017
Case number
1:18-cv-00120
Case Status
Settled
Type of case
Class Action

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Status of Charges
Charges dropped
Arresting Authority
Metropolitan Police Department
Dropped Charges
Unnecessary use of force?
No
Status of Seized Equipment
Returned in full
Search Warrant Obtained
No
Actor who seized equipment
Law enforcement
REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Protesters and journalists scramble as stun grenades are deployed by police during a protest near the inauguration of President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, U.S., Jan. 20, 2017. 

— REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
September 17, 2021 - Update

Independent journalist receives payout as plaintiff in class-action lawsuit

Independent journalist Alex Stokes received a payment as part of a settlement agreement in his class-action lawsuit filed following his arrest while covering the 2017 inauguration of then-President-elect Donald Trump, according to court filings.

Stokes, who at the time hosted an Albany Public Access TV news show, was covering protests related to the inauguration when he was caught in a “kettle” — a technique in which officers surround a crowd, often in order to conduct mass arrests. Stokes, who was charged with felony rioting, was one of at least 9 journalists arrested or detained on Jan. 20. The charges against him were dropped a month later.

According to the lawsuit, Stokes was detained in the kettle at the corner of 12th and L streets for nine hours before he was formally arrested and transported to a detention facility.

Stokes and two other plaintiffs filed their class-action lawsuit almost exactly one year after the inauguration protests, naming the District of Columbia and 11 MPD officers, including then-Chief of Police Peter Newsham.

The federal court for DC certified the class settlement on May 11, 2021, and filed a final approval order on Sept. 15. The settlement recognized two classes: the “Conditions of Confinement Class” and a “False Arrest Class.” According to the complaint, Stokes was the class representative for the “Conditions of Confinement” class.

Both classes consisted of individuals who were arrested at or near 12th and L streets on Inauguration Day in 2017. According to court filings, “Conditions of Confinement” class members who submit an approved claim are eligible for up to $680, and members of the “False Arrest Class” are eligible for up to $5,000.

January 20, 2017

Alexander Stokes — an independent journalist whose show was broadcast on Albany Public Access TV news show — was arrested on Jan. 20, 2017, while covering protests on the day of President Donald Trump's inauguration. Stokes, whose full name is Alexander Stokes Contompasis, stated that he was never asked for press credentials despite informing officers that he was press, and his cell phone and two cameras were seized by police during his arrest.

He was charged with the highest level of offense under Washington D.C.’s law against rioting, which applies when there are injuries as a result of the activity or property damage in excess of $5,000, which can be punished by a maximum of 10 years in jail and fines of up to $25,000.

On Feb. 21, the charges against Stokes were dropped. On March 1, his cameras and cell phone were returned, though he told Buzzfeed that he was uncertain whether they had been searched.

Stokes is now a member of "Press Connection," a group that advocates for those still facing criminal charges in connection with the Inauguration protests.

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