Alabama Newspaper Publisher & Reporter Arrested, Sparks Alarm
Essential facts, data, and arguments presented in the article include:
1. Sherry Digmon, the publisher and co-owner of Atmore News in Alabama, and Don Fletcher, a reporter, were arrested and charged with revealing grand jury evidence in an article they published.
2. The article, published on October 25, reported that the local district attorney, Stephen Billy, was investigating the local school board’s handling of federal coronavirus pandemic relief money.
3. Ms. Digmon is also a member of the school board and was indicted on ethics violations related to her position.
In summary, Digmon and Fletcher were charged with revealing grand jury evidence in an article they published about the investigation into the local school board’s handling of pandemic relief money. Digmon, who is also a member of the school board, was indicted on ethics violations. Press freedom advocates have expressed concerns about the charges, arguing that the First Amendment protects the right of newspapers to publish truthful information about matters of public concern.
Alabama Publisher and Reporter Arrested Over Grand Jury Evidence Disclosure
Concerns over First Amendment rights have been raised as an Alabama newspaper publisher and a reporter face arrest and charges for allegedly disclosing grand jury evidence in an article. Sherry Digmon, publisher and co-owner of Atmore News, and reporter Don Fletcher, are facing felony charges brought by the Escambia County district attorney, Stephen Billy. These charges are connected to an article published by the newspaper on Oct. 25.
The article highlighted an investigation by Mr. Billy into the local school board’s use of federal coronavirus pandemic relief funds. The paper had obtained subpoenaed financial records related to the investigation, however, the method of acquisition remains unclear. Both Digmon and Fletcher were arrested and charged with revealing grand jury evidence and subsequently released on $10,000 bonds.
A school bookkeeper, Ashley Fore, was also charged with the same felony offense for reportedly providing grand jury investigation information to the media. Adding to the controversy is Digmon’s dual role as a member of the investigated school board and publisher of Atmore News. She also faces two ethics violations related to her position on the school board.
Press advocates argue that newspapers are free to publish information about grand jury investigations provided they haven’t used illegal methods to obtain it. “The First Amendment protects the right of newspapers to publish truthful speech about matters of public concern,” said Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
The National Press Club, a journalist organization, has called on authorities to drop the charges against Digmon and Fletcher. In their statement, they argued that journalists have the responsibility to report information of public interest.
Local authorities maintain that the law was broken when grand jury information was made public. The lawyer for Digmon and Fletcher, Earnest White, has labeled these charges as “politically motivated.” Meanwhile, Mr. Billy did not respond to requests for comment.
This incident follows a similar case involving a local newspaper in Kansas, which also stirred First Amendment concerns. Anthony L. Fargo, director of the Center for International Media Law and Policy Studies at Indiana University, described the actions taken in both Kansas and Alabama as “disturbing.”
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