You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Charges dropped against reporter arrested while covering train derailment

CBS News 2/15/2023 Kerry Breen

Charges have been dropped against a NewsNation reporter who was arrested while filming a live report during a press conference after a train derailed in East Palestine, officials said Wednesday. 

Evan Lambert was one of many reporters at a press conference being held by Ohio governor Mike DeWine following the train's Feb. 3 derailment. Of the 38 cars that derailed, 10 were carrying toxic chemicals, including vinyl chloride, and 12 other train cars were damaged by a fire. 

Police told CBS Pittsburgh that Lambert was speaking loudly while DeWine was addressing other reporters. The station reported that Lambert had a "heated conversation" with Maj. Gen. John Harris Jr., the leader of the Ohio National Guard, before his arrest. Body camera footage reviewed by CBS Pittsburgh shows that Harris reportedly spoke with a camera operator as a state trooper motioned to stop the live shot, then confronted Lambert and pushed him with one hand in the chest. Lambert was also pointing and talking to Harris. A state trooper intervened, stepping between the two men and moving away the commander. 

This photo provided by Ohio State Highway Patrol shows police bodycam footage of NewsNation correspondent Evan Lambert interaction with authorities Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023 in the gymnasium of an elementary school in East Palestine, Ohio.  / Credit: / AP © Provided by CBS News This photo provided by Ohio State Highway Patrol shows police bodycam footage of NewsNation correspondent Evan Lambert interaction with authorities Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023 in the gymnasium of an elementary school in East Palestine, Ohio.  / Credit: / AP

According to CBS Pittsburgh, Lambert was told to leave after the incident, but he refused multiple times. Lambert was then pulled to the exit by two officers. Body camera footage reviewed by CBS Pittsburgh showed Lambert pull away from the officers before he is pushed to the floor and handcuffed. 

Lambert was charged with criminal trespass, a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and resisting arrest, a second-degree misdemeanor. According to CBS Pittsburgh, he spent about five hours in jail before being released on bond that same day. On Wednesday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced that the charges were being dismissed. 

"My office has reviewed the relevant video and documentary evidence, and is dismissing the charges against Evan Lambert as unsupported by sufficient evidence," Yost said in a statement provided to CBS News. "While journalists could conceivably be subject to criminal charges for trespassing in some situations, this incident is not one of them. 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."

"Regardless of the intent, arresting a journalist reporting at a press conference is a serious matter," Yost continued. "Ohio protects a free press under its constitution, and state officials should remember to exercise a heightened level of restraint in using arrest powers." 

Shortly after Yost's statement was released, Lambert shared a response on Twitter

"I'm still processing what was a traumatic event for me, in the context of a time where we are hyper aware of how frequently some police interactions with people of color can end in much worse consequences," wrote Lambert. The two officers who arrested him are White, and Harris is Black, according to CBS Pittsburgh. "That is not lost on me." 

Lambert thanked Yost, his employer and other supporters who had helped see the charges dismissed. 

"To be clear, (these charges) should never have been filed in the first place," Lambert added. "I am doing alright. And I will be OK. I will also continue to do my job without fear or favor in service of the public. I also hope what happened to me shines further attention on the people of East Palestine, who rightly have questions about their safety in light of an environmental hazard." 

The environmental impacts of the train derailment on the East Palestine area remain unclear. Evacuation orders have been lifted, but area residents returning home have reported respiratory issues and burning eyes, even as air quality tests show no dangerous levels of toxins. East Palestine mayor Trent Conaway has also said that the city has representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency conducting air safety tests. 

Tests have also showed that the city's drinking water is safe, Conaway said, but officials have been urging residents to drink bottled water

Some residents have reported that their pets and household animals have died since the derailment, and while a Department of Agriculture spokesperson said there are no issues being reported in livestock animals, about 3,500 dead fish have been found in local waterways. 

Trains have since resumed operation on the railway, officials said. 

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon