Freelance journalist arrested while covering Wauwatosa, Wisconsin protests

October 8, 2020

Freelance journalist Blair Nelson was arrested while covering a protest in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, on Oct. 8, 2020.

Demonstrations began after a Milwaukee County prosecutor said on Oct. 7 his office wouldn’t bring charges against a Wauwatosa police officer who shot and killed Black teenager Alvin Cole on Feb. 2. Police said Cole refused orders to put down a gun after he ran away from police following a disturbance at a mall. The protests came as demonstrations against police violence and racial injustice had been held for months across the country, including in Wisconsin.

Nelson, who has reported for the conservative national college news site Campus Reform and news site The RF Angle, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he decided to go to Wauwatosa from his base in central Illinois to cover protests sparked by a lack of charges in Cole’s death. He wasn’t on assignment for a particular outlet, he said.

On the second day of demonstrations following the prosecutor’s announcement, protesters were driving through Wauwatosa in a car caravan, he said. The protest continued after a 7 p.m. curfew in Wauwatosa took effect.

Nelson said he was following the caravan in a car with three other journalists — Daily Caller reporters Richie McGinniss and Shelby Talcott, and independent social media journalist Brendan Gutenschwager. At one point the group saw police were making arrests, so they parked the car. Nelson said he got out and started filming the scene from the sidewalk. He said he and McGinniss were filming police as they arrested Alvin Cole’s mother when police “swarmed us,” Nelson said.

Nelson said a National Guardsman took his phone and pulled Nelson’s hands behind his back. McGinniss told the officer they were journalists, Nelson said, and the officer released him, returned his phone, and told him to leave.

As they left, Nelson said local police officers chased them. Video McGinniss posted on Twitter shows that police shouted at the journalists to “get down on the ground” as they returned to their car.

Nelson said he followed police orders, got down on the ground and told police he was a journalist, but didn’t have any form of credentials with him.

He said he was handcuffed, loaded into a police van and transported to jail in neighboring Waukesha County. He said he was released at around 2:30 a.m. the following morning.

Nelson was cited for violating an emergency order. He pleaded not guilty at a hearing on Dec. 10, and his attorney told the judge that he was at the protest as press, Nelson said. A date hasn’t yet been set for the next court hearing

Gutenschwager was also arrested and cited for violating an emergency order. Talcott and McGinniss were detained, but released when police identified them as journalists.

Nelson said police confiscated his phone when he was arrested, and that it was not returned to him until Dec. 1.

Wauwatosa Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Abby Pavlik told the Tracker in an email that Nelson wasn’t wearing anything that identified him as a member of the press and didn’t show police any credentials when police asked.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering these protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

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

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