Two journalists who entered Liberty University’s campus to report stories about the school keeping its dorms open during the coronavirus pandemic will not be prosecuted for criminal trespass.
The two, ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis and freelance photojournalist Julia Rendleman, reported on the campus in late March. A few days earlier, the school had put up “no trespassing” signs at its entrances, the city of Lynchburg said.
Bethany Harrison, the commonwealth’s attorney for the city of Lynchburg, actually concluded that the proof met the statutory requirements to support a criminal trespass charge, per a statement from the city obtained by TPM.
“However, after consultation and agreement with Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., she elects not to pursue criminal prosecution and penalties against these journalists,” the statement read.
Both journalists issued apologies through their lawyers, asserting that they did not know about the no trespassing requirements, which were put in place in response to the pandemic.
“President Falwell is satisfied with having the reporters understand that they have to respect the no trespassing signs,” said Liberty University spokesperson Scott Lamb about the reason for the dropped charges.
Falwell announced that he’d be pursuing criminal trespass charges at the beginning of April on the right-wing radio show, the “Todd Starnes Show.”
Warrants were obtained by Detective Sergeant Alan Wilkins with the Liberty University Police Department.
Falwell became the subject of many news stories after publicly downplaying the severity of the coronavirus, then letting students return to opened dorms after spring break. By that point, many colleges across the country had at least temporarily shuttered.
Read the commonwealth’s attorney for the city of Lynchburg’s statement here:
This story has been updated with a response from Liberty University.