Attacks on the Press

Journalist Sues Ohio City Over Arrest During Live Television Broadcast

NewsNation journalist Evan Lambert arrested
A screen grab of a Feb. 9 NewsNation broadcast which shows law enforcement arresting journalist Evan Lambert on Feb. 8, 2023.

By Susanna Granieri

A journalist who was arrested during his coverage of a press conference following the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio earlier this year sued the city and several law enforcement officials on Monday, claiming the arrest violated his First Amendment rights.

Evan Lambert, a Washington, D.C.- based correspondent for the television network NewsNation, was one of many journalists to travel to the small city in February after the train derailment released toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment, forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

He was delivering a live report on Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s press conference when, according to the filing, law enforcement officials told him to stop the broadcast. When he refused, he was arrested and later charged with trespass and resisting arrest. Video of the incident soon went viral on social media. 

His lawsuit was filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the First Amendment Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against Columbiana County, the city of East Palestine and five law enforcement officials.

“I’m bringing this lawsuit because journalists should be able to cover newsworthy matters without fear of arrest or retaliation,” Lambert said in a press release. “The public had an obvious interest in the response by Ohio officials to the train derailment in East Palestine, and as a journalist, it was my duty to report that information.”

The suit includes several other claims against specific law enforcement officials, including false arrest, excessive force, battery and malicious prosecution.

“These are very serious violations of Mr. Lambert’s rights under federal and Ohio law, and we hope the city and county will work proactively to resolve this so that no other journalists find themselves in this situation simply for doing their job,” said Katie Townsend, deputy executive director and legal director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in a press release.

East Palestine Police Chief James Brown did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The Columbiana County prosecutor’s office declined to comment. Teetor Westfall, the law firm representing the county, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But in February, Gov. DeWine described the arrest as “wrong” and urged the attorney general to drop any charges against Lambert. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost soon agreed that the charges were “unsupported by sufficient evidence” and dropped them.

“While journalists could conceivably be subject to criminal charges for trespassing in some situations, this incident is not one of them,” Attorney General Yost said in a press release at the time. “The reporter was lawfully present at a press conference called by the Governor of the state. His conduct was consistent with the purpose of the event and his role as a reporter.”