The prosecutor in Durham, N.C., has dismissed a harassment charge against a Raleigh News & Observer reporter, citing a lack of evidence to prosecute a journalist who was trying to interview a woman for a story. District Attorney Jim Hardin said the charge against reporter Demorris Lee had “significant implications” regarding “the First Amendment issues of freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” the News & Observer reports. Hardin called for Durham’s judicial leaders to require that police investigate allegations brought against the media before charges are filed. Similar protections already exist for police officers, emergency workers, and public school teachers.
Last month, Ruth Brown, a Durham police property room technician, filed the charge of making harassing phone calls against Lee, 36, of Raleigh. Lee was arrested Nov. 14 and released on a written promise to appear in court. Brown’s testimony three years ago convicted a teenager of robbing her. It led to a jail sentence of at least 10 years for Erick Daniels. Brown last spoke to Lee two years ago after the Daniels trial ended. The conversation ended with Brown telling Lee never again to call her. The Daniels case has been reopened by Durham police, and a Durham advocacy group is reviewing it. Lee, while writing stories about these developments, left three phone messages for Brown. Brown believed the calls to be an annoyance and harassing, Hardin wrote. Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, who appoints Durham magistrates, agreed that Lee’s arrest could have “a chilling effect” on free speech. But Hudson rejected the idea that reporters need special protections.