IOWA CITY, Iowa — An Iowa jury on Wednesday acquitted a journalist who was pepper-sprayed and arrested by police while covering a protest, in a case that critics have derided as an attack on press freedoms and an abuse of prosecutorial discretion.
After deliberating for less than two hours, the jury found Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri and her ex-boyfriend Spenser Robnett not guilty on misdemeanor charges of failure to disperse and interference with official acts.
The Des Moines verdict is an embarrassing outcome for the office of Polk County Attorney John Sarcone, which pursued the charges despite widespread condemnation from advocates for a free press and human rights.
Those advocates, ranging from Sahouri’s bosses at the Register to Amnesty International, argued that Sahouri was wrongly arrested while doing her job covering racial injustice protests in Des Moines last May.
More than 100 groups called for the dismissal of charges last summer, but prosecutors aggressively pursued them, arguing that Sahouri and Robnett didn’t comply with police orders to leave the chaotic scene outside of a mall and interfered with the officer who arrested Sahouri.
Sahouri, 25, immediately identified herself as a reporter on assignment but was subjected to what she called “extremely painful” pepper spray blasts and jailed. Robnett, 24, said he was sprayed and handcuffed after telling the officer that Sahouri was a Register journalist.
Sahouri was the…