Amy Goodman cleared of rioting charges in North Dakota pipeline protest

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! is one of the finest reporters around, covering stories that the mainstream ignores, especially those involving the marginalized sectors of the country. She recently covered the protests by American Indians against an oil pipeline that was being built in North Dakota that tribes who live in the area say threatens their water supply and cultural heritage. The security firm hired by the Dakota Access pipeline company used dogs and pepper spray to attack the protestors and the video that Goodman’s crew shot went viral.

She was arrested and charged with rioting, that could have resulted in her spending up to a year in jail.

The North Dakota state attorney’s office had originally charged the journalist with “criminal trespass”. But last week, prosecutors emailed Goodman’s attorney, admitting that there were “legal issues with proving the notice of trespassing requirements in the statute”, according to Democracy Now! Instead, the state said it would be seeking riot charges.

“If the prosecutor thought he was going to intimidate Amy, he severely misjudged the situation,” Reed Brody, one of Goodman’s lawyers, told the Guardian after the judge’s decision Monday.

But today the judge ruled that the state lacked probable cause for the riot charge and thus prevented them from moving forward with it. The result is seen as being a victory for freedom of the press.

The case backfired on prosecutors by prompting many journalists to write about law enforcement’s questionable responses to protesters, [Brody] added.

“If he thought these charges were going to deflect media attention from the pipeline, then he really blew it.”

The Freedom of the Press Foundation noted that Goodman was arrested in 2008 for covering Minnesota protests at the Republican national convention. She later won $100,000 from the state in a first amendment lawsuit.

The foundation slammed the prosecution in a statement before the court appearance: “Not only are they flagrantly violating the constitution, they are giving every two-bit dictator and corrupt police establishment around the world every excuse to point to this episode and arrest journalists abroad, while making a mockery of our own press freedom protections at home.”


  1. Matt G says

    Talk about trumped up charges! More reasons why Republicans everywhere must be defeated. And has everyone seen John McCain’s threat today? I didn’t think it was possible for me to lose even more respect for him. I seem to say that a lot….

  2. bittys says

    But today the judge ruled that the state lacked probable cause for the riot charge

    Ok, i’m neither a lawyer, nor an American -- but does that sentence not mean that the police had no legal grounds to arrest her?

  3. Dunc says

    Two things that are always bad signs: when regimes start going after journalists, and when regimes start casting around for any charges they think they can make stick to a particular target, post-hoc. The combination of the two is the sort of thing you expect from a tin-pot banana republic.

  4. Mano Singham says


    Even though I too am not a lawyer, I believe that it does mean that she should not have been arrested on that charge. But police have very wide leeway to find causes to arrest people even if the cases are thrown out later.

  5. Matt G says

    Conservatives have made a lot of hay out of the “liberal activist judge” trope for decades. Maybe we should start talking about “activist law enforcement” to describe politically motivated arrests and other abuses of power.

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