Freelance journalist detained until colleague vouches for her to Los Angeles police

June 2, 2020

Samanta Helou-Hernandez, a freelance multimedia journalist, was detained by Los Angeles police on June 2, 2020 while covering a protest near the mayor’s residence.

The protest was part of a wave of Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality demonstrations across the country sparked by the release of a video showing a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest. Floyd was later pronounced dead in a hospital.

The officer has been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers who were present face felony charges.

The protest in central Los Angeles began at the Getty House, the mayor’s residence, before the city-wide curfew at 6:30 p.m., Helou-Hernandez told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. Some protestors wanted to continue demonstrating past curfew and Helou-Hernandez stayed to document them. Around 7:30 p.m., about 100 protesters marched through Hancock Park before turning onto Wilshire Boulevard where they were met by police in riot gear.

Helou-Hernandez followed the group of protesters onto a side street. Someone yelled, “they’re shooting,” and Helou-Hernandez said she followed a smaller contingent of around a dozen people onto another side street, where they were cornered by officers with the Los Angeles Police Department. Helou-Hernandez was cuffed with zip ties. When she told the police that she was press, they moved her aside. She explained that she didn’t have press credentials because she was a freelancer and offered to show LAPD her clips and website on her phone.

According to Helou-Hernandez, an officer said something to the effect of, “If you’re press, why did you run away from us? You should have run toward us” if you thought there was shooting. At this point, Helou-Hernandez and protesters were brought to a second location to join a larger group of about 20-30 handcuffed protesters. The officers called their names and directed them to form lines. The group was sent to a third location on 8th and Crenshaw where buses would take them to the precinct.

Lexis-Olivier Ray, a journalist for L.A. Taco, was at 8th and Crenshaw documenting arrests. Ray was already in touch with a police supervisor because he and an L.A. Taco colleague had been barred from crossing the police line. Ray heard Helou-Hernandez calling his name.

“I grabbed the attention of the supervisor who I had been talking to already … and I bring his attention to the fact that my friend and fellow journalist Sami is in custody,” Ray said. He also showed the LAPD her website and clips.

At 9:36 p.m. Ray tweeted a video of Helou-Hernandez in zip ties with the caption, “My friend and fellow journalist @Samanta_Helou is currently in custody. @LAPDHQ is trying to verify her identity. We've shown them her work for @kcet @curbed @laist @lataco.”

Ray was told that the media relations officer would make a decision regarding whether Helou-Hernandez would be taken into custody. After 20-30 minutes, the media relations officer arrived and Helou-Hernandez was released.

Helou-Hernandez was not given a certificate of release, but estimates that she was in custody for 90 minutes. At 10:02 p.m. she tweeted that she had been released. The LAPD did not respond to a request for comment.

“Had I not seen a colleague I would have ultimately been taken on the bus downtown,” Helou-Hernandez told the Tracker.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering Black Lives Matter 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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