Jackson County prosecutors dropped charges against two student sports journalists accused of stealing jerseys designated for the top picks of three football teams during the NFL Draft in Kansas City in April.
Eric Lambkins, 40, and Jude Ocañas, 19, each faced second-degree burglary, stealing and first-degree trespassing charges in Jackson County District Court. The pair was visiting Kansas City to report on the NFL Draft for the University of Southern California student-run news outlet, according to an online petition expressing support for the men.
Lambkins, an Army veteran, was a graduate student at the school at the time of the incident. He had also spent two years working as a sports journalist for a local Los Angeles news outlet. Ocañas was an undergraduate freshman at USC. Both of the students were arrested by Kansas City police while sitting on the plane back to Los Angeles.
The two men were accused of sneaking into a restricted area and stealing more than $1,000 worth of jerseys for the first players drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings, according to court documents.
The charges were dismissed on August 11, according to court records.
Michael Mansur, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said a diversion agreement had been reached involving the pair’s school in early August.
“We think this will be the best outcome for everyone involved,” he said.
Lambkins told the Star he was “eternally grateful” to the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office for dropping the case. He called the incident and resulting charges an “extremely traumatic” experience. As a Black man in the United States, Lambkins said, he did not expect to receive grace from local authorities.
“I had done so much work to build trust and confidence [in my reputation]... I felt that everything that happened undermined it. There’s a ton I would have done differently,” he said.
Both Lambkins and Ocañas were tasked with producing an ethics in journalism video, which they will complete by the end of September, as part of the diversion agreement, he said
Lambkins said that with the project he aims to help other journalists understand the credentialing process as well as how to conduct themselves ethically around the press box and the solicitation of different “swag and perks.”
In the time since the charges were initially filed, Lambkins has won a distinguished First Amendment Award at his school.
“Our work will rehabilitate our reputation,” he said of the pair’s plans going forward.