Free press advocates urge DA not to charge Stanford reporter arrested with university protesters

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Ryan Macasero/Bay Area News Group Police stand in front of the Stanford University president’s office after a group of pro-Palestine protesters barricaded themselves inside the office in Stanford, Calif., on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. Thirteen pro-Palestine Stanford University students were arrested. (Ryan Macasero/Bay Area News Group)

Dozens of free press organizations urged the Santa Clara County District Attorney on Thursday not to file criminal charges against a Stanford student journalist who was arrested along with 12 pro-Palestinian protesters who broke into the university president’s office earlier this month.

Reporter Dilan Gohill, 19, was arrested June 5 while reporting on the office occupation by the 12 protesters — among them a Stanford Daily editor — from inside the barricaded building and booked on suspicion of felony burglary, vandalism and conspiracy. The university temporarily suspended all of them and banned them from campus. The student newspaper in a statement said the editor involved in the protest has since resigned.

Stanford in a June 10 statement said “the circumstances of these arrests were not the typical scenario of student journalists reporting on a protest in a public venue.”

“Rather, both Stanford Daily staffers were among a small group of individuals barricaded inside a locked office building, after gaining unlawful entry,” the statement said. “They had no legal right to be there, under the First Amendment or otherwise, and the conduct in this case was deeply problematic.”

Gohill and the protesters have since been released from custody and the District Attorney’s Office has not announced any decision on filing charges. Stanford President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez said in a June 10 statement from that the university would “fully support” Gohill’s prosecution.

But 26 journalism and free speech organizations in a Thursday letter to District Attorney Jeff Rosen argued that Gohill should not have to face criminal charges.

“Based on the circumstances and absence of any criminal motivation, we urge your office to avoid expending significant resources prosecuting a young journalist who was acting in good faith to serve the public’s interest in timely coverage of newsworthy events,” the organizations wrote.

Stanford University said Thursday it had no further comment on the matter.

The letter of support was authored by the First Amendment Coalition and the Student Press Law Center alongside organizations including ACLU of Northern California and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Max Szabo, an attorney and spokesperson for the journalist, said “Dilan and his family are grateful to the many organizations that are taking a stand to support both Dilan and freedom of the press.”

Szabo also provided new details on Thursday about Gohill’s arrest. Gohill wore a press badge and Stanford Daily sweatshirt that clearly separated him from protesters, Szabo said. When authorities entered the building, protesters “purportedly told law enforcement officers that Gohill was, ‘not one of us, he’s press,’ an interaction Gohill’s editors could hear via speakerphone,” Szabo wrote.

Szabo wrote that Gohill spent 15 hours in jail, where Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Deputies “attempted to gain access to Dilan’s iPhone, putting it up to his face in order to gain entry via Face ID. Dilan looked away repeatedly, stymying the Deputies’ efforts to get into his device.”

The Stanford Daily’s executive editors referred to a previous statement by its board in which they “ask the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office to decline pursuing criminal charges against Dilan, which would be plainly unfounded.”

Jean-Paul Jassy, an attorney representing Gohill, said that seeking “accountability for the protestors is one thing, but advocating that a journalist face criminal consequences for doing his job is at odds with an institution of higher learning and the university’s own motto that ‘the winds of freedom blow.’”

Staff writer Ryan Macasero contributed to this report

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.