Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · May 20, 2024

RICHMOND, Texas—A citizen journalist arrested for his reporting will no longer face prosecution on misdemeanor charges that he interfered with police. Fort Bend County dropped the charges, but only after waiting for more than a year after it failed to convict Justin Pulliam at trial. Justin’s lawsuit with the Institute for Justice (IJ) against the Sheriff and his deputies for the retaliatory arrest is continuing in federal court.

“We’re supposed to enjoy liberty and justice for all, to be able to speak our beliefs, but prosecutors can violate the Constitution with retaliatory prosecutions to silence political opposition. It’s alarming and outrageous,” said Justin. “I was saved only by a jury of my peers, who stopped the political persecution after watching the video—my video—that showed exactly what happened.”

Justin was arrested in December 2021 while recording the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office’s response to a mental health call. Justin had permission from the property owner and was nowhere close to the scene. But then-Sgt. Taylor Rollins, a defendant in Justin’s free speech challenge, arrested him within 60 seconds of arriving on scene because Justin questioned why he was being ordered off scene while others were allowed to stay. In December 2022, Justin filed his lawsuit with IJ over that and other violations of his First Amendment rights.

But even as Justin fought for his rights in federal court, the state prosecutor brought him to trial in state court in April 2023 for supposedly interfering with Sgt. Rollins. After hours of jury deliberation, a Fort Bend County judge declared a mistrial in the county’s criminal prosecution of Justin for allegedly interfering with police. Five members of the jury voted to acquit, but a single juror insisted on voting for conviction.

“Those five jurors got it right,” said IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “Not only did Justin not break the law, his arrest was blatantly unconstitutional and a threat to citizen journalists everywhere. The DA never should have prosecuted in the first place and it was right to drop the charges now.”

Last year, a federal district court rejected the Sheriff’s attempt to dismiss Justin’s lawsuit challenging the retaliation.

Justin’s lawsuit with IJ seeks to protect First Amendment rights in two ways. First, the public is allowed to record police subject only to reasonable restrictions. Again, Justin was far from interfering with police activities. Second, government officials cannot treat independent journalists differently from members of the established media or other members of the public. The deputy who arrested Justin singled him out from others on the scene just because Justin was recording. And, in the months before the arrest, the Sheriff personally excluded Justin from an outdoor press conference at a public park while choosing to answer questions from other news crews on site.