U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Vocativ journalist charged with rioting in Washington, D.C.

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 20, 2017

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Status of Charges
Charges dropped
Arresting Authority
Metropolitan police department
Dropped Charges
Release Date
Unnecessary use of force?
Yes
Status of Seized Equipment
Returned in full
Search Warrant Obtained
No
Actor who seized equipment
Law enforcement

Assault

Was the journalist targeted?
Unknown
Evan Engel headshot
September 17, 2021 - Update

Vocativ journalist receives payout from class-action settlement with District of Columbia

Journalist Evan Engel said in March 2022 that he received a payment as part of a settlement agreement in a class-action lawsuit following widespread arrests during the 2017 inauguration of then-President-elect Donald Trump.

Engel, who was a senior producer at Vocativ at the time, 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. Engel was one of at least 9 journalists arrested or detained on Jan. 20. Engel was charged with felony rioting, but the charges were dropped a week later.

Independent reporter Alex Stokes was also arrested and charged with felony rioting that day, with his charges dropped a month later. Stokes was one of the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed almost exactly one year after the inauguration protests which named 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.”

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.

Engel told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he claimed a payment from the settlement fund and that he plans to donate the sum to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, where the Tracker is housed.

January 20, 2017

Evan Engel was arrested on Jan. 20, 2017, while covering protests in Washington, D.C., on the day of President Donald Trump's inauguration. At the time, Engel was a senior producer at Vocativ. Vocativ spokeswoman Ellen Davis told the Committee to Protect Journalists that police seized Engel’s camera and mobile phone.

In a blog post for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Engel wrote about the circumstances of his arrest:

The group – which included protesters, journalists (including myself), medics, and legal observers – raised their hands in the air and awaited further instructions from the police.

I livestreamed the detention on Facebook. After about 40 minutes, police officers from DC’s Metropolitan Police Department began pulled me from the group (livestreamers were among the first arrested). As I’ve done in numerous protests since 2008, I showed officers my camera and business cards and explained that I was a journalist.

“That’s great,” one officer replied. “I’m a sergeant.”

Engel 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.

Engel wrote that he was detained for over 27 hours. He said that he and other detainees were subjected to abusive treatment, including being locked in the back of an overheated van.

On Jan. 27, all charges against Engel were dropped. Police later returned his phone and camera.

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