DA Importuned To Reject Criminal Charges Against Reporter After His Arrest For Covering Protest

Yesterday, Thursday June 20, the First Amendment Coalition and the Student Press Law Center, along with 24 other free speech and press freedom organizations, called on the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office to decline charges against a student journalist who was arrested while covering a demonstration at Stanford University.
Police arrested Dilan Gohill, 19, a first-year Stanford student and reporter for The Stanford Daily, along with 12 protesters after the university sought a law enforcement response to demonstrations that were taking place on June 5. Those protests included occupation of the Stanford president’s office. Gohill was held in jail for 15 hours and faces charges of felony burglary, vandalism and conspiracy, according to his lawyers and the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
According to the First Amendment Coalition, Gohill’s journalistic assignments extend to covering student activism and campus developments, such that he was caught up in events he was there to observe which were beyond his control. As someone who was not actively involved in the activities for which others have been criminally cited, his prosecution is not warranted according to the letter, which was authored jointly by the First Amendment Coalition and the Student Press Law Center and signed onto by the ACLU of Northern California, the Los Angeles Chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, the Associated Collegiate Press, the Los Angeles Chapter of the Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, the California News Publishers Association, CCNMA Latino Journalists of California, the Coalition For Women In Journalism, the College Media Association, the First Amendment Foundation, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Los Angeles Press Club, the Media Alliance, Media Guild of the West/News Guild-Communications Workers of America Local 39213, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association, the Orange County Press Club, the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, The NewsGuild-CWA Local 39521 and Women Press Freedom.
According to the letter, “It is clear to us that Gohill was present to cover the news. As the editorial board of The Stanford Daily explained, Gohill was on assignment and did not plan or participate in the protest in any way. It is our understanding he did not break into any buildings, vandalize any property or engage in the creation of barricades. In the course of his reporting, Gohill became barricaded inside the building. He identified himself as a reporter, displaying his newspaper-issued press badge and wearing a red Stanford Daily sweatshirt, which visibly distinguished him from protesters who dressed in black. When officers arrived, Gohill told them he was a member of the press, and protesters even told police he was not one of them, an interaction his editors could hear via speakerphone. Further demonstrating that Gohill was present in his capacity as a journalist, he published breaking news detailing activity inside the building.”
A dispatch on The Stanford Daily’s website reads. “Once inside, protestors barricaded doors with bike locks, chains, ladders and chairs and covered security cameras with tin foil.”
According to the letter Gohill’s journalistic efforts relating to the events of June 5 helped inform the outside world, including the campus police officers who ultimately arrested him, of what was taking place in side the Stanford president’s office.
“Gohill’s coverage of the events helped inform the campus and broader community of protester demands and conduct, and of the university and law enforcement response,” the letter states. “Given these circumstances, it is difficult to see how charging Gohill with multiple felonies serves the interests of justice, especially because as a journalist reporting on breaking news he lacked the requisite intent for the crimes he is accused of committing.”
The letter, while advocating on Gohill’s behalf, does acknowledge that he willingly placed himself within a context of activity authorities deemed illegal.
“The Israel-Hamas war and related protest movement is one of the biggest news stories of our time, especially on college campuses,” the letter states. “Gohill’s specific beat at The Daily is student activism. Given this dedicated area of coverage, you can understand how this would lead to an emerging journalist’s desire to closely follow protester activities, especially activities likely to prompt a law enforcement response. Based on the circumstances and absence of any criminal motivation, we urge your office to avoid expending significant resources prosecuting a young journalist who was acting in good faith to serve the public’s interest in timely coverage of newsworthy events.”
Gohill, initially after his arrest was, like the other 12 Stanford students, suspended from the university. Upon examining the circumstance, President Richard Saller and Stanford Provost Jenny Martinez revoked Gohill’s suspension. He remains a member of the Stanford Class of 2027.
Rosen and his office have not made any public reaction to the letter.

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