U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Fox 9 reporter detained while covering Brooklyn Center protest

Incident Details

April 16, 2021

Babs Santos, a reporter for Minneapolis-based Fox 9 KMSP, reported live that he was detained while covering a protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 16, 2021.

Several hundred protesters marched to the Brooklyn Center Police Department in response to the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, by a white police officer during a traffic stop. Wright’s death, on April 11, occurred as a former police officer in nearby Minneapolis was on trial in the death of George Floyd, rekindling a wave of protests against racial injustice and police brutality that had started nearly a year earlier.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the protest had been peaceful until around 9 p.m. Some time after that, authorities told the outlet, some in the crowd began to throw objects and attempted to break through a barrier around the police station, prompting the declaration of an unlawful assembly and orders for dispersal. At around 10 p.m., Minnesota Public Radio reported that police moved swiftly to corral the protesters and members of the press, deploying flash-bang grenades and pepper spray.

A group of journalists was detained by law enforcement officers in Brooklyn Center and ordered to lie on the ground, according to reports given to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, as well as reports in news outlets and on social media. Find reports on the detainments from the night of April 16 in Brooklyn Center here.

Santos described his detainment in a live Fox 9 broadcast.

The video posted on Fox 9’s website shows Santos reporting at 10:04 p.m. that law enforcement had made a dispersal order. Santos says that people are moving around him and away from an approaching group of law enforcement.

The broadcast switches to another reporter in a different location, showing multiple law enforcement vehicles pulling up and officers in state trooper uniforms getting out. A line of police on bicycles can be seen riding up the sidewalk

At 10:08 p.m., the video shows a view from the ground of someone lying on their stomach with Minnesota State Patrol troopers visible standing over them.

At 10:14, the broadcast returns to Santos, who says his team, including photographers and security, had been detained as law enforcement moved in and surrounded the crowd.

“We were really caught right in the middle,” Santos said.

The Tracker has not been able to identify other KMSP journalists detained with Santos. Multiple requests for comment from KMSP and FOX were not returned.

When the team was detained, Santos says in the video, they laid down on the ground with their hands in front of them. He says they identified themselves as press to law enforcement and were allowed to leave.

In the video, Santos is wearing a large, bright yellow card on a lanyard around his neck that says “PRESS” and “FOX9.”

At 10:16 p.m., Santos tweeted a video showing a view apparently from ground level in which multiple Minnesota State Patrol troopers were visible. A voice can be heard identifying themselves as press.

In a second video Santos tweeted about half an hour later, voices can be heard shouting “get on the ground” and state troopers and police lights can be seen.

“Moments ago.. briefly detained with our security detail before being released,” Santos wrote.

Santos was also one of many journalists whose credentials and faces were photographed by law enforcement.

Santos and other journalists were detained hours after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring state law enforcement from arresting or using force against journalists, in response to a motion filed earlier in the week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

The next day, April 17, more than two dozen media and advocacy organizations, including Fox, sent a letter to Gov. Tim Walz expressing concern about the detainments and other police treatment of journalists since the protests began.

A spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety referred the Tracker to a statement from the Minnesota State Patrol, which acknowledged that troopers had photographed journalists, their media credentials and their identification “during recent enforcement actions in Brooklyn Center.” MSP said that though journalists had been detained and released during the protests, no journalists were arrested. (The Tracker documents detainments in the arrest category but notes that the journalists were released without being processed.)

MSP didn’t respond to a request for comment specifically about the detainment of Santos. The agency’s earlier statement said that state troopers will no longer photograph journalists and their credentials, but will continue to check media credentials.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.

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