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Freelance journalist assaulted, arrested during L.A. protest

September 8, 2020

Freelance journalist and National Press Photographers Association member Julianna Lacoste was struck with crowd-control munitions, assaulted by law enforcement and arrested while documenting protests in Los Angeles, California, on Sept. 8, 2020.

Lacoste told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in an email that at around 7:30 p.m. she’d arrived at the intersection of Normandie Avenue and West Imperial Highway, where protesters had gathered outside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department following the fatal shooting of Dijon Kizzee, a Black man, by deputies on Aug. 31.

According to Lacoste, at approximately 8:30 p.m., the deputies declared the protest unlawful and ordered the crowd to disperse. Shortly thereafter, she said, they began to advance on the crowd and fire crowd-control munitions.

“I began to run down Normandie trying to escape the clouds of tear gas, rubber/foam bullets, pepper balls, stinger grenades and sand bags being fired,” Lacoste said. “I kept running, but it seemed like I couldn’t get away from the action.”

Lacoste said that as things began to calm down, about an hour later, she saw some people walking to their cars and that no deputies were in sight. Lacoste said she continued to move and had just passed a group of individuals when she felt a crowd-control munition strike her hand and knock her phone away.

“Then my head was shot, but I was luckily wearing a helmet,” she said. “Then my shoulder was shot as well. At that point I was only looking to find shelter because I was simply getting pelted with shots.”

Lacoste said she was eventually able to crouch behind a nearby car, but almost immediately after hunching down, two deputies appeared beside her. Lacoste said one aimed a weapon at her as the other forced her onto her stomach.

“I said, ‘I’m not resisting. I’m press. OK, OK, I’m not resisting,’” Lacoste recounted. She said she had a press badge in her bag and her helmet featured a “PRESS” label.

Lacoste said that the camera she was wearing around her neck broke from the weight of the deputies during the course of the arrest. “Their knee was on my back and neck as they wrestled for the cuffs,” she said.

Lacoste said the deputies secured the handcuffs incredibly tight, which worsened the pain in her injured hand.

She said they refused to pick up her cellphone from where it had fallen and escorted her to an LASD vehicle, where she waited as others were loaded in “like sardines.” The detainees were taken to a van and then transported to the Imperial Sheriff’s station, Lacoste said. There, she said, deputies used a knife to cut the straps of both her backpack and camera in order to pull them off without removing her handcuffs.

Lacoste also alleged that at the station some of the officers used personal cellphones to photograph her and other detainees. Student journalist Pablo Unzueta, who was also arrested that evening, made similar allegations. The Tracker has published his case here.

“The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department values the media and highly respects the freedom of the press,” Deputy Trina Schrader, a spokesperson for the department, told the Tracker in an emailed statement when asked for comment on Unzueta’s arrest. Schrader also noted that an investigation had been launched into the events that day. The department did not respond to an emailed request for comment about Lacoste’s arrest as of press time.

Lacoste said she was detained for more than an hour before being transported to a hospital for treatment. At approximately 6 a.m. the following day, she said, she was transported back to the sheriff’s station.

Lacoste said that at around 10 a.m. she was finally able to speak with her lawyer, who informed her that her bail had been posted and she should be released within two hours. According to Lacoste’s bail paperwork, which was reviewed by the Tracker, she posted a $5,000 bond.

Before her release, Lacoste said, she was transferred to the women’s jail and asked about her injuries. Upon detailing them, the officer processing Lacoste rejected her paperwork and instructed deputies to transport her back to the hospital so her injuries could be fully documented. According to Lacoste, deputies did not transport her back to the hospital, however, and placed her in a cell at the sheriff’s station.

“After hours of begging for a phone that worked they finally let me use the phone,” Lacoste said. “At that point I called my boyfriend and he informed me that I was going to get out soon and they had been making hundreds of calls on my behalf. During that phone call is when I got released.”

Lacoste was charged with misdemeanor failure to disperse and ordered to appear in court on Jan. 6, 2021. Lacoste hasn’t responded to the Tracker’s latest requests for comment, and the status of her case remains unknown.

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

January 6, 2021 Update

Freelance journalist Julianna Lacoste received notice that the charges against her had been dropped when her attorney appeared on her behalf at a hearing on Jan. 6, 2021.

Lacoste, who is a National Press Photographers Association member, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she was struck with crowd-control munitions, assaulted by law enforcement and arrested while documenting protests in Los Angeles, California, on Sept. 8, 2020. When she was released the following day on a $5,000 bond, she was charged with misdemeanor failure to disperse and ordered to appear in court on Jan. 6, 2021.

Lacoste’s attorney received proof of appearance paperwork after attending the hearing, which was reviewed by the Tracker. It shows that there is no case number associated with Lacoste’s arrest and that the prosecutor’s office declined to pursue charges against her.

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