Journalists won't be prosecuted in Liberty University trespassing case

Photo credit: WDBJ7
Photo credit: WDBJ7(WHSV)
Published: May. 15, 2020 at 1:33 PM EDT
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Two journalists will not be prosecuted after


That's according to Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney Bethany Harrison.

Liberty University Police had filed arrest warrants against a New York Times photographer and a ProPublica reporter for misdemeanor trespassing on campus.

As a precaution against the coronavirus, "no trespassing" signs were placed on campus March 23, restricting the campus to students and employees and others with official university business, days before the journalists were on campus.

One of the journalists was escorted on campus by a student who claimed to be unaware of the signs; the other believed it was okay to be there based on prior permission and later apologized for the confusion.

Harrison said the journalists' actions met the requirements to be prosecuted, but made the decision not to prosecute after talking with Liberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr.

The warrants came after pieces were published about how Liberty dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.

Alec MacGillis, the reporter, issued the following statement through his lawyer:

"On March 25, 2020, journalist Alec MacGillis went to Liberty University’s campus to report on a newsworthy story related to the health of the public and of university students, which involved assessing the situation on campus and seeking comment from university officials. Mr. MacGillis believed he had the right to report there based on a prior conversation with the university president inviting him to campus and because such reporting constituted business with the university. Mr. MacGillis now understands that Liberty believes he should not have been on campus in light of newly posted signs restricting certain access, and that it is the university’s position that for the duration of the public health emergency and while these signs remain posted, all news media are restricted from entry on campus without express invitation. Mr. MacGillis further understands that the university police have said that Mr. MacGillis is restricted from university property, events, and activities. Mr. MacGillis has enjoyed his time in Lynchburg over the years, and hopes to return to the city soon."

Julia Rendleman, the photographer, issued the following statement through her lawyer:

"Ms. Rendleman had been to Liberty University’s campus before to photograph Jerry Falwell, Jr. and was not aware that the University had changed any policies regarding campus access. It was later brought to Ms. Rendleman’s attention that Liberty University had posted signs restricting access to campus staff, students, and those conducting business with the university. Ms. Rendleman apologizes for the misunderstanding and for any concern caused by her presence on campus. Had she been aware of the new policies before arriving on campus that day, she would have requested to meet with the student at an off-campus location."