Missouri professor Melissa Click reaches deal on assault charge for threatening student photojournalist
4 pm, 1/29: This story was updated with a response from the University of Missouri's system spokesman.
MISSOURI — University of Missouri professor Melissa Click reached a deal with prosecutors on Friday after being charged with misdemeanor assault for threatening student photojournalists during a campus protest.
The third-degree assault charge, which Click was slapped with on Monday, had carried a possible punishment of 15 days in jail. Instead, Click will complete 20 hours of community service work with no jail time as long as she doesn’t break the law for one year.
“Based on the facts of this case, I believe this disposition to be appropriate,” Columbia City Prosecutor Stephen Richey said in a statement. “This disposition is in keeping with my office’s handling of dozens of similar Municipal cases and adequately serves the interest of justice by ensuring the defendant will not engage in similar conduct.”
Click, who did not immediately respond to the Student Press Law Center’s request for comment, was suspended on Wednesday by the University of Missouri system’s governing board. Click is an assistant professor of mass media in the Department of Communication.
The university system’s general counsel is conducting an investigation alongside the city attorney. Once the board has received the results of the investigation, it will determine if additional discipline is needed.
[Updated, 4 pm] John Fougere, spokesman for the university system, said in an email that the investigation will continue despite the reached deal — "until it is determined to [the board's] satisfaction that it has all the information in the matter," he said.
Click received national scorn and criticism for her appearance in a viral video in November that showed protesters trying to bar two student photojournalists from documenting their campsite on the campus quad. The students were protesting racism on campus. Click yelled at student photojournalist Mark Schierbecker, who was recording the video, that he needed to “get out” multiple times and eventually grabbed and shook his camera. When Schierbecker said he did not need to leave, Click walked away yelling, “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.”
Click has publicly apologized for her role in the video, saying that she regrets the “language and strategies” she used and how her actions “have shifted attention away from the students’ campaign for justice.” She resigned her courtesy appointment with Missouri’s journalism school, along with her position as chair of the student publications committee.
“I’m hoping that Click has taken something away from this,” Schierbecker said. “I’m hoping she can uphold her end of the bargain.”
Schierbecker said he hopes to utilize the existing momentum by putting together a grassroots movement, with help from the Student Press Law Center, to push for several pieces of free speech legislation in Missouri.
He said this movement started this week and already has grown “quite big,” with many Missouri journalism students expressing interest and a professional lobbyist signing on board to help. The group is supporting a bill that would require graduates of public universities in the state to take a course on the First Amendment, along with the Walter Cronkite New Voices Act, which would protect student journalists’ right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media by restricting administrative censorship.
Schierbecker said he also hopes to see legislation to establish a shield law for reporters in Missouri. A shield law allows journalists to withhold confidential sources and unpublished newsgathering materials from the parties in a criminal investigation or civil lawsuit. Schierbecker said he has already identified potential legislators who are interested in sponsoring this bill and that he will announce more at a later date.
SPLC staff writer Madeline Will can be reached by email or at (202) 833-4614.
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