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SA Photojournalist Alexei Wood on His Looming Fight with the D.C. Courts


A pre-trial self portrait. - ALEXEI WOOD VIA FACEBOOK
  • Alexei Wood via Facebook
  • A pre-trial self portrait.
On Monday, the D.C. trial for San Antonio photojournalist Alexei Wood officially kicks off.

Wood, 37, was arrested on January 20, 2017 while taking photos and videos of a chaotic Inauguration Day protest in downtown D.C. Like the 200 other journalists, protesters, and bystanders who were indiscriminately rounded up and arrested after the protest turned violent, Wood has been charged with conspiring and inciting a riot “to facilitate violence and destruction” and destroying property. A majority of them, including Wood, face the unusually high punishment of 60 to 70 years behind bars.

Since there are hundreds facing the same charges, the court's made the uncommon decision to try the defendants in groups, rather than one at a time. Wood's group of seven is the first to see their day in court.

We caught up with Wood on his lunch break on Wednesday, Nov. 15 — the first day of jury selection for his case.

"It's a beautiful sunny day in D.C.," he said. "But it's cold inside the court. The prosecution is out for blood."

Earlier this year, when the D.C. court asked if any of the defendants wanted to be the first to go to trial, Wood volunteered. Now, he suspects the federal government (who oversees the D.C. court system) will use his case to set an example for the defendants to follow.

That's because earlier last week, Wood discovered that the group of defendants following his — with a December 11 court date — had their charges dropped to misdemeanors, meaning they wouldn’t have to face a full jury. The feds gave no explanation, aside from “prosecutorial discretion.”

But Wood has a hypothesis.

“My guess is they want to focus all their resources on our group to prove a point. They have to show that innocence is not an option,” he told the Current.

Wood knew that offering to go first wasn't the "conservative option," and he certainly doesn't regret the decision.

“I wanted to go first. I wanted the biggest fight. I know I am righteous in my innocence,” he said.

Press freedom advocates, like the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, have repeatedly argued against Wood's charges, claiming that his right to record a protest from the sidelines shouldn't be attacked. "Being near a newsworthy event is no crime for anyone, reporters included," the RCFP wrote in a letter to the U.S. Attorney in Wood's case.

However, advocates see how some parts of Wood's 42-minute Facebook video could be misinterpreted. Like when Wood yells "Whoo!" while showing protesters breaking things or when he flips the camera around to capture his own facial reactions to the escalating events.

“I could see someone at the [Department of Justice] saying this is what a protester does,” said Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director for the RCFP told the New York Times.

For now, Wood said he’s not trying to get attached to any of the highs or lows that come from the trial’s first days — or the media surrounding it.

“You can beat the charges but you can’t beat the ride,” he said. “And right now, I am on the ride.”

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