EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – A special state prosecutor has been assigned to the case involving a reporter who was arrested during a press conference in East Palestine this week.
NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert was charged with resisting arrest and criminal trespass. Video capturing the incident shows an altercation between Lambert and police.
The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney in Columbiana County issued a release Friday saying that “it was readily apparent that the incident involves not only local entities here in Columbiana County, but multiple state of Ohio agencies, including the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Ohio National Guard.”
The release said that given the “complex nature” of those parties involved the case will be forwarded to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and their Special Prosecutions Division.
“We will work diligently with the OAG’s Office to ensure they have all necessary information, evidence, and materials required for a prompt review,” the release stated.
Lambert was in the area, reporting on the train derailment in East Palestine when he was arrested at Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s press conference Wednesday.
An affidavit filed Wednesday night claims the man in charge of Ohio’s National Guard, Major Gen. John Harris, confronted Lambert over his doing a live report from the school gym where Gov. Mike DeWine was speaking Wednesday afternoon. The affidavit in the case reports that Lambert’s reporting was “loud” and that two Highway Patrol troopers, along with Harris, went back and advised them to stop their live reporting.
The news conference was originally scheduled for 3 p.m. but had been delayed until 5 p.m., at the same time Lambert was scheduled to go live on NewsNation.
The affidavit accuses Lambert of being involved in an altercation with Harris during the incident.
The following statement was provided by Harris to local law enforcement:
“During Gov. DeWine’s press conference on Feb. 8, 2023, I heard very loud voices coming from the back of the gymnasium. Since most of the people in my immediate area were involved in the press conference as Public Information Officers or Subject Matters Experts, I decided I was the best person to notify the source of the disruption that the press conference had begun.
Upon reaching the back of the gym, I saw a cameraman and reporter making what I assumed was a recorded message. Upon telling the reporter that the press conference had begun and that they were disrupting it, they appeared to become agitated and informed me that they were broadcasting live. After stepping out of the shot and appealing to them to be quiet down, I waited for them to finish their work. As I began to offer the assistance of my PIO team to find a more suitable location, the cameraman demanded, HEY, COME OVER HERE!
Confused, I told him I would not come over there. I went back to conversing with the reporter who grew more agitated. He then became enraged. His eyes opened wide, he stared at me while very aggressively lurching at me. He screamed YOU GUYS ARE THE ONES WHO STRUNG THIS THING OUT! (I assumed he was referring to the 2-hour delay for the press conference).
He is a much larger person than I am. At that point I was convinced he was prepared to do harm to me. I instinctively put my hands on his chest to keep him from bumping into me, which I felt was inevitable if I had not protected myself. I immediately removed my hands when there was space between us – we were in contact for less than a second.
At that time he immediately began yelling statements such as: ASSAULT! DID YOU SEE THAT, HE ASSAULTED ME! That was witnessed by several law enforcement officers. The officers attempted to persuade him to stop being disruptive. Now convinced that I was involved in a contrived event, I removed myself from the immediate area and walked back to the press conference. As I walked away I heard his voice continue to get louder and more hostile and the commotion at the rear of the gym continued. At the point I was no longer in a position to see what was happening.”
According to the affidavit, East Palestine detective Dan Haueter, Sheriff Brian McLaughlin, Chief Deputy Jen Tucker and Lt. Caleb Wycoff also advised Lambert that he needed to leave.
Lambert refused, saying he was just doing his job.
Video from the incident shows officers taking Lambert to the ground during his arrest, while Lambert says he did nothing wrong. The affidavit states that while Haueter and Tucker were escorting Lambert out, “he attempted to pull away and was taken to the ground” by [Haueter] and Chief Deputy Tucker.
WKBN reporter Megan Lee, who was there at the time of the arrest, recounted the moments leading up to Lambert’s arrest on “Morning in America.”
“It seems like there was some type of physical altercation toward Evan. And then, I remember hearing Evan say like, ‘this is assault,’ or something. Honestly, I was in so much shock that they were trying to not let him do his job — it was shocking to me,” Lee said.
A statement issued to WKBN from the East Palestine Police Department says officers attempted to “deescalate the situation” by asking Lambert to step outside. Lambert refused, saying he was doing his job and wanted to listen to what DeWine had to say.
The statement says Lambert was taken to the ground by Haueter and Tucker during a struggle “in an effort to maintain control” of Lambert and “while preventing injury to the involved parties.”
The police chief said no further comment will be made about the issue.
After Lambert was taken into custody, DeWine spoke out during Wednesday’s press conference and said he didn’t personally order the arrest.
“It has always been my practice that if I’m doing a press conference, someone wants to report out there and they want to be talking back to the people back on channel, whatever, they have every right to do that,” DeWine said. “If someone was stopped from doing that, or told they could not do that, that was wrong. It was nothing that I authorized.”
After being taken into custody for five hours, Lambert was released from jail overnight and will now appear in court later this month.
He spoke to NewsNation following his release from jail.
“I’m doing fine right now. It’s been an extremely long day,” Lambert told NewsNation. “No journalist expects to be arrested when you’re doing your job, and I think that’s really important that that doesn’t happen in our country.”
Lambert’s attorney, Youngstown lawyer Frank L. Cassese, released a statement late Thursday about the arrest.
“On Feb. 8, 2023, at the press conference held by Ohio authorities and Gov. Mike DeWine regarding the Norfolk Southern train derailment, my client was reporting in his official capacity as a journalist for NewsNation. While broadcasting, he was aggressively confronted by law enforcement, who were seemingly perturbed that Mr. Lambert appeared to be in a live broadcast while Governor DeWine was speaking. In the United States of America, we enjoy certain freedoms that have shaped the landscape of our country for the better. The freedom of speech and the freedom of the press are protected under the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Mr. Lambert, in fulfilling his journalistic responsibilities, had an absolute right to be present in the East Palestine gymnasium to report the news last evening. The claims made by Adjutant Major General Harris that Mr. Lambert was aggressive, and that Harris was “…convinced he was prepared to do harm to me” are patently false. It is our position that the numerous videos of the incident, as recorded by bystanders, speak for themselves,” Cassese wrote.
He went on to say that the charges against Lambert are a futile attempt by law enforcement to justify the arrest.
“When the Governor of the State of Ohio makes a statement that supports the right of a journalist to be present and condemns the interference of his broadcast, a reasonable person would conclude that Mr. Lambert was simply doing his job. My client intends to fight these charges and believes the actions taken by law enforcement were unwarranted,” Cassese wrote.
The Youngstown Press Club today issued the following statement regarding the arrest:
“The Youngstown Press Club strongly condemns the arrest of NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert while covering a news conference with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on the train derailment in East Palestine. While we appreciate the pressure that the attention has put on local officials, particularly first responders, as they attempt to address the derailment and work to get the community back to normal, Lambert’s arrest represents an egregious overreaction by law enforcement that should not happen in an America governed by the First Amendment.”
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said the arrest is “unacceptable.’
“I don’t care what he looked like or where he was from. To arrest a journalist doing her job, doing, in this case, his job, is just unacceptable,” he said.
Chelsea Simeon and Patty Coller contributed to this report.