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SPJ Calls For County Counselor to Drop Charges Against St. Louis Post-Dispatch Reporter

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Wagman faces a maximum penalty of $1,000 and a year in jail.
The Indianapolis-based Society of Professional Journalists last week called for St. Louis County Counselor Patricia Redington to drop a misdemeanor charge against a St. Louis Post-Dispatch political reporter, Jake Wagman.

St. Louis County Police arrested Wagman during a rowdy "town hall" held in south county in August. Wagman was on the clock, reporting and collecting video footage of the health care-related event for the local daily.

Three months later, Redington charged Wagman with one count of interfering with law enforcement.

"We acknowledge that in some circumstances reporters in the heat of the moment can act disorderly and arrogant toward police," SPJ president Kevin Smith said in a letter to Redington, "but this was clearly not one of those cases. In this situation it appears that Mr. Wagman was polite and reasonable."

The appeal goes on:

Clearly it is important that police have the authority to secure a scene and maintain public safety, but in this case it appears their actions were arbitrary and unnecessary....It is essential that journalists and citizens are allowed to witness public events within reasonable bounds. Indeed, in this case the police crossed the line, not Mr. Wagman, and while police cannot be charged for interfering with news gathering, surely there is no need to charge Mr. Wagman for interfering with police. Both sides should shake hands and move on.

Wagman will make his first court appearance in the case on January 21.
 

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