ChargesDroppedAgainst Dartmouth Student Journalists Arrested at Protest

Dartmouth College student journalists Charlotte Hampton and Alesandra Gonzales were arrested while covering a Palestinian solidarity protest on campus. Prosecutors dropped criminal trespassing charges against them, citing inability to prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Nitish Verma
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ChargesDroppedAgainst Dartmouth Student Journalists Arrested at Protest

ChargesDroppedAgainst Dartmouth Student Journalists Arrested at Protest

Prosecutors have dropped criminal trespassing charges against two Dartmouth College student journalists who were arrested while covering Palestinian solidarity protests on campus on May 1. Charlotte Hampton and Alesandra "Dre" Gonzales, both staff members of The Dartmouth student newspaper, were among nearly 90 people charged in connection with the demonstrations.

Why this matters: This incident highlights the importance of press freedom and the role of student journalists in covering important events on campus, as it can have a chilling effect on the ability of journalists to report on controversial issues. The outcome of this case sets a precedent for how law enforcement and educational institutions respond to journalists covering protests and demonstrations.

Hampton, a managing editor, and Gonzales, a reporter and photographer, were observing a prominent history professor being detained by police when they were arrested. The students claimed they had received permission to stay from an official with the school's communications office. Initially, the college suggested it would let the charges play out in court, but facing outcry from press freedom advocates, Dartmouth President Sian Beilock committed to "working with local authorities to ensure this error is corrected."

The arrests occurred during a pro-Palestinian protest on the Dartmouth College Green, where students had set up a tent encampment. The protest was part of a larger movement of Palestinian solidarity demonstrations across the country. It was held in support of striking graduate and undergraduate student workers, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, and demanding that the College divest from companies making or selling weapons to the Israeli military.

The event was peaceful, according to many accounts, including that of a faculty member who attended the protest. However, the College's decision to bring in police, including New Hampshire riot police and SWAT teams, was widely criticized by faculty, students, and alumni. "We understand The Dartmouth staff members who were taken into custody believe that occurred in error. We stand behind their right to vindicate that belief through the legal process," said Senior Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson.

The arrests sparked outrage among press freedom advocates, who argued that the students were simply doing their job as journalists. The Student Press Law Center, which advocates for the rights of student journalists, was among those calling for charges to be dropped. "It's unfortunate it took as long as it did. I know the students there were freaking out, having never been arrested before, been through this process before and they felt they were just doing their jobs. So there's a lot of relief that it all kind of worked itself out," said Mike Heistand, legal counsel with the Student Press Law Center.

On May 7, Grafton assistant county attorney Mariana Pastore motioned the Second Circuit Court to remove the bail conditions imposed on Hampton and Gonzales. As a result, the State of New Hampshire declined to press charges against the two student journalists, stating in court filings that it"does not believe it can prove the charges against [the student journalists] beyond a reasonable doubt."

Gonzales expressed gratitude that she and her editor will not be prosecuted, but remains concerned about the fate of other students and faculty who were arrested. The school has not announced whether it will ask prosecutors to drop charges for the other individuals arrested at the protest. The incident highlights the importance of press freedom and the role of student journalists in covering important events on campus.