USC student journalists mount a legal defense in Kansas City

Two students covering the NFL Draft for Annenberg Media were seated for their return flight to L.A. when police boarded the plane and arrested them.

Photo montage of Eric Lambkins II (left) and Jude Ocañas (right).

Updated with a statement from defense attorney David Bell

Two USC Annenberg students and reporters for The Talk of Troy, a student-led multiplatform sports podcast, have mounted a legal defense after facing accusations of stealing three jerseys at the NFL Draft in Kansas City.

The students were two of five credentialed Annenberg Media journalists who had official identification. Court documents allege they were “trespassing,” when they entered the “Talent Waiting Room” and the “Nike Room.”

Eric Lambkins II and Jude Ocañas were returning to Los Angeles Friday after completing Annenberg Media’s first-ever live coverage of the draft, when Kansas City Police boarded the airplane, arrested and detained them.

They were charged with second-degree theft and first-degree trespassing. They each posted $2,500 bail Saturday and have returned to campus.

Defense attorney David Bell, who represents both students, issued the following statement:

“Out of respect for our system of justice, we are not going to comment on the evidence outside of the courtroom.  We are confident that the unique set of circumstances in this case, combined with the extraordinary reputations of Mr. Lambkins and Mr. Ocañas, will result in a fair and equitable resolution to all parties involved.”

They were charged with the theft of three NFL draft jerseys marked with the number 1 for first-draft picks. The first-round draft took place Thursday night, meaning the jerseys in question were no longer to be used for the event.

Lambkins is a journalism graduate student at Annenberg, a U.S. Army veteran and a rising sports journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is also a prominent advocate for Black journalists at USC and a managing editor at Annenberg Media, a student-led newsroom supported by the Journalism School.

Lambkins is one of the founding members and visionaries of The Talk of Troy, and had spent the year sculpting the relationships that could provide a team of students the opportunity to cover the NFL Draft. He and his team produced hours of coverage and livestreaming content for all platforms of Annenberg Media, including television, radio, social and digital.

Ocañas is a freshman journalism major with aspirations to become an NFL analyst. He joined The Talk of Troy NFL draft broadcasting team and exhibited outstanding knowledge of the league. Among other awards, he received a USC Deans Scholarship and the Jacki and Gilbert Wells Cisneros Endowed Scholarship awarded to a new student of Latin American descent with outstanding academic performance.

The trip, as with all Annenberg Media travel, was funded by the Journalism School. The Talk of Troy team regularly broadcasts sports coverage throughout the year on Annenberg Media. Earlier this year Lambkins organized a team to cover the East/West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas, a game that showcases the talents of college football players in front of top NFL team representatives.

When asked for comment, USC’s public relations team issued a one-sentence statement: “While limited by student privacy laws in what we can share, we are cooperating with the authorities in this matter and will follow our internal processes with respect to any allegations of misconduct.” A USC representative would not say whether the university reached out to the students before crafting the statement or if the students had been asked to waive any privacy rules.

Both Lambkins and Ocañas are currently back on campus completing their finals. After winning Annenberg’s Jack Langguth First Amendment Award last month, Lambkins is also preparing for graduation next week.

Defense attorney Bell filed a motion Wednesday to postpone the arraignment for both students for approximately 45 days to later in June.

“The parties believe that the requested continuance will provide sufficient time to share discovery, and further, to minimize the number of in-person court appearances to resolve the case,” the motion reads.