LYNCHBURG, Va. – Two journalists who were accused of trespassing on Liberty University’s campus will not be prosecuted, according to Bethany Harrison, Lynchburg’s Commonwealth’s Attorney.
According to the release, despite there being sufficient evidence, Harison and Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. came to an agreement to not press charges.
Stefan “Alec” MacGillis, a politics reporter for ProPublica, and Julia Rendleman, a freelance journalist were each charged with one count trespassing on April 6, according to the release.
Liberty University officials say they posted around 20 “no trespassing” signs at the main entrances of the private campus as well as throughout Lynchburg. The sign read: "“Liberty University Campus, Open ONLY to Students, Employees, & Those Conducting University Business, Until Further Notice, NO TRESPASSING.”
Officials say MacGillis was on Liberty’s campus on March 25 to take photographs and interview students, which were published by ProPublica the next day.
Rendleman says she was invited by a student onto the campus for a tour and pictures on March 27. The student claims he was unaware of the posted no trespassing signs. The photos taken by Rendleman of the student were published in the New York Times two days later.
On April 6, authorities say Det. Alan Wilkins with the Liberty University Police Department obtained warrants for the two journalists.
According to the release, Harrison concluded that there was sufficient proof that Rendleman and MacGillis’ actions are legally considered trespassing. However, per an agreement reached with Falwell, no charges will be filed.
Below is a statement from Rendleman to Harrison 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."
The statement from MacGillis through his lawyer is below:
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.