Los Angeles police say that a reporter was interfering with an arrest Saturday night when they shoved her to the ground, handcuffed her, and took her to jail. But at least two different videos of the incident seem to show that’s not what happened.
The journalist, LAist and NPR reporter Josie Huang, was in police custody for over five hours Saturday night into Sunday morning, covered in bruises and scrapes following her arrest outside the St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood. Huang was out covering a 10 p.m. press conference related to the shooting of two Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies in Compton earlier that day.
Huang says that shortly after the press conference, while talking to her editor, she noticed a standoff between protesters and officers outside the medical center and decided to film it. Video shot by Huang shows that officers followed the protestors once they left the scene and began to arrest one of them. It was then that officers turned their attention to Huang.
Though police were initially quiet about the details of the arrest, the Sheriff's Information Bureau later claimed that Huang not only didn’t identify herself as a member of the press but accused her of interfering with a lawful arrest and refused to adhere to commands to back away, according to LAist.
But footage of the arrest shot by a nearby ABC7 Eyewitness News crew and by Huang herself shows a different order of events.
In one of many videos she posted on Twitter, Huang is seen filming officers following the protesters from a distance for an extended period of time without reprimand.
This continues until police begin arresting a protester and begin to walk him to a nearby police vehicle. Then, at least three different officers ask Huang to back up. In a second video, which Huang says was shot immediately after the first, the camera immediately falls to the ground as Huang is heard repeatedly telling the officers that she is a reporter and screaming for help.
Footage shot by the nearby news crew shows at least five officers pinning her to the ground and handcuffing her. As officers stand her up and walk her to a nearby patrol car, Huang’s press credentials can be seen hanging from her neck. Another video shot by OnScene.TV shows Huang backing away from officers as they grab her and take her to the ground.
Huang was taken to the Century Regional Detention Center and held until 4 a.m. She was charged with obstruction. Huang suffered a black eye and a sore shoulder as well as scrapes and bruises from the arrest.
The sheriff’s department says an investigation of what led to Huang’s arrest is under way. But video of the arrest already has the public calling on the department to drop all charges against the reporter.
“These are challenging and stressful times for everyone, but Josie Huang was arrested while doing her job. The charges should be dropped,” a statement from Los Angeles NPR affiliate KPCC said. "Her arrest is the latest in a series of troubling interactions between our reporters and some local law enforcement officers. Journalists provide an essential service, providing fair, accurate and timely journalism and without them, our democracy is at risk."
LA County Inspector General Max Huntsman also said that he would be opening an investigation into the arrest immediately.
Huang took to Twitter Sunday night to thank nearby reporters and others for calling out the LASD.
“Thank you all for the support and to the loveliest colleagues at KPCC and LAist. Our newsroom works really hard to cover our community and is proud to exercise our 1st Amendment rights, along with all the rest of you.”
Cover: Twitter/Josie Huang