U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Fox 11 News photojournalist held at knifepoint over footage of California shelter-in-place protest

Incident Details

July 13, 2023 - Update

Attorney sentenced for false imprisonment of California photojournalist

The Los Angeles-area lawyer who held a KTTV-TV photojournalist to force him to delete footage of an anti-quarantine protest was sentenced on July 13, 2023, to 180 days in jail, two years of probation, restitution, and a drug and/or alcohol program, according to court records reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Christien F. Petersen was charged with false imprisonment and brandishing a weapon, which was reported at the time as a pocketknife. He was released from police custody after posting $100,000 bail. He later pleaded guilty to the false imprisonment charge and is scheduled to relinquish his firearms on July 25, 2023. The brandishment charge was dismissed.

A Fox News spokesperson earlier told the Tracker that the photojournalist and a reporter involved in the incident requested to not be identified.

April 17, 2020

A man was arrested in Huntington Beach, California, and charged with kidnapping a Fox 11 News photographer at knifepoint during a protest on April 17, 2020.

Fox 11 reported that its two-person crew was covering a demonstration against the state’s shelter-in-place guidelines when a man approached the reporter and photographer with a pocket knife in hand and demanded they delete any video he might appear in.

A Fox News spokesperson told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the crew requested to not be identified.

The man, later identified as 36-year-old Christien Petersen, then forced the photographer to go to his news van in order to delete the protest footage. Fox 11 reported that Petersen was still holding the cameraman at knifepoint in the van when police arrived at the scene at around 7:30 p.m.

Police told The Los Angeles Times that Petersen appeared intoxicated.

The Fox News spokesperson told the Tracker that the station turned over all footage to the police to aid in their investigation.

Officer Angela Bennett confirmed that to the Tracker that Petersen faces charges of kidnapping and exhibiting a deadly weapon other than a firearm. Bennett also noted that Petersen was released from police custody on April 20 after he posted bail. Fox 11 reported the bail was set at $100,000.

In a statement to the New York Post, Petersen’s attorney, Christopher Darden, said the incident was a “gross misunderstanding.”

“A man took [Petersen]’s photo and [Petersen] objected because he was not part of the protest and did not want to be associated with it. We do not believe that an attempted kidnapping is supported by the facts and that all that has happened to [Petersen] is due to a gross misunderstanding,” Darden said.

Darden, who identified his client as a lawyer and father of two, says Petersen intends to apologize to the news photographer.

The spokesperson added that both the photographer and reporter were shaken but uninjured, and are looking forward to returning to work.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].