U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Freelance journalist assaulted, arrested during LA protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 8, 2020
Case number
Case Status
Type of case

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Release Date
Unnecessary use of force?


Was the journalist targeted?

Equipment Damage

Equipment Seized
Status of Seized Equipment
Returned in full
Search Warrant Obtained
Courtesy Julianna Lacoste

Freelance photojournalist Julianna Lacoste photographed the multiple injuries she sustained when she was assaulted, arrested and her equipment damaged and seized by sheriff’s deputies while documenting a protest in Los Angeles on Sept. 8, 2020.

— Courtesy Julianna Lacoste
May 18, 2023 - Update

Freelance journalist’s phone searched after arrest, warrant confirms

Freelance photojournalist Julianna Lacoste filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on June 21, 2023, alleging violations of her First and Fourth Amendment rights when she was arrested and assaulted at a September 2020 Black Lives Matter protest.

The civil rights suit states that Lacoste was documenting a protest over the shooting death of cyclist Dijon Kizzee when Sheriff’s deputies charged demonstrators without warning, firing less-lethal munitions and tear gas into the crowd.

According to the lawsuit, munitions struck Lacoste on the side of her head, her shoulder and her right hand, causing her to drop the cellphone she was using to livestream the protest. Sheriff’s deputies then placed her under arrest for failure to disperse and held her for 19 hours without adequately treating her injuries. The suit states that officers deliberately left Lacoste’s phone at the scene and held her camera, damaged in the course of her arrest, in custody until April 2021.

Colleen Flynn, an attorney representing Lacoste, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that it was clear that the officers’ treatment of Lacoste was retaliatory.

“They really hurt her and then did not get her the medical care that she needed and they kept her in custody for an unreasonable amount of time,” Flynn said. “The dismissiveness with which they treated her was a shock to the conscience.”

The day following the protest, sheriff’s deputies obtained a search warrant for cellphones belonging to more than a dozen individuals. The search warrant and an affidavit in support of the warrant were released in May 2023, more than 2 1/2 years after the incident, and following an August 2022 motion to unseal filed by the First Amendment Coalition and independent news organization Knock LA.

The warrant falsely described Lacoste’s camera as “abandoned at the location of the unlawful assembly,” according to her lawsuit.

The media organizations said that the sheriff’s department had fought the release of the materials for more than two years, in violation of California state law and the First Amendment. The release only came after former Sheriff Alex Villanueva was ousted in a November 2022 election and replaced by Robert Luna, who acceded to the unsealing.

Susan E. Seager of the UC Irvine School of Law, who represented Knock LA and FAC in the case, said the timing shows that the department never had a good reason to seal the warrants in the first place.

Photos accompanying the warrant materials included Lacoste’s credential from the National Press Photographers Association. FAC noted in a later statement that police records confirmed that the LASD knew journalists were included as targets, which raises press rights concerns.

The search warrant obtained by Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies authorizing the search of 17 cellphones following a September 2020 protest included an image of photojournalist Julianna Lacoste’s credential from the National Press Photographers As
The search warrant obtained by Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies authorizing the search of 17 cellphones following a September 2020 protest included an image of photojournalist Julianna Lacoste’s credential from the National Press Photographers Association. | SCREENSHOT

“Those photos, along with the fact both journalists have said they verbally identified themselves as press, should have put pause on the probe or, at a minimum, prompted the department to make disclosures to the judge to ensure press rights were protected,” the statement said.

David Snyder, executive director of FAC, also commented: “While we are grateful the public can finally see these documents, they should have been able to do so long ago. There can be no real accountability without knowledge – what did the police tell the judge who issued this warrant? Now this crucial question can be answered, and accountability for any unjustified arrest and seizure can at long last begin.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated and corrected with information from Julianna Lacoste’s June 2023 lawsuit and comment from her attorney.

January 6, 2021 - Update

Charges dropped against freelance journalist assaulted, arrested during LA protest

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.

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].