U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Freelance journalist detained while covering a deforestation protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 14, 2022
Atlanta, Georgia

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
Atlanta Police Department
Unnecessary use of force?
Equipment Seized
Status of Seized Equipment
In custody
Search Warrant Obtained
May 14, 2022

Freelance journalist Ryan Fatica was detained and his notebook seized while covering a protest in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 14, 2022, according to a news report and an interview with the journalist.

Fatica, who is based in Arizona, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in December that he was on assignment for Unicorn Riot that day covering protests organized by the Defend the Atlanta Forest campaign. According to Fatica’s reporting for the nonprofit media organization, demonstrators gathered in Atlanta as part of a “week of action” against the planned destruction of 85 acres of forest to make way for a police training facility.

Fatica told the Tracker that on May 14, protesters marched for approximately an hour before returning to Freedom Park and beginning to disperse.

“We could see the cops starting to line up at the edge of the park, piles of zip ties in their hands,” Fatica said. “Lots of people left, others thought that they were in a public park so they didn’t have anything to worry about.”

Atlanta Police Department officers advanced on those remaining in the park without warning, Fatica said. While he was filming the arrest of a demonstrator, an officer pointed at him and directed other officers to detain him as well.

“Him too, he was in the street recording, he was recording, too,” the officer can be heard saying in Fatica’s footage of the incident.

Fatica told the Tracker that while he wasn’t wearing a press badge, as soon as officers grabbed him he identified himself as a journalist. While he was handcuffed and on the ground, a sergeant took his reporting notebook from his pocket.

“She started looking through the notes, then said something like, ‘You’re not getting this back,’ and put it in her pocket,” Fatica said. He added that she wrote down his name on the inside flap before walking away.

Fatica said he was one of approximately 17 people detained, and that those who were charged were cited with “pedestrian in roadway,” a misdemeanor.

Once he was transported with the other detainees to jail to be processed, officers realized that the proper paperwork had not been filled out for Fatica during his arrest. He said he was released without charges approximately five hours after he was detained.

“I do believe that my arrest is part of a process of escalation of tactics against that movement and anyone documenting it,” Fatica said. “If this had been a protest about some issue unrelated to the police they would not have attacked it in the way that they did.”

When emailed for comment, the Atlanta Police Department’s Public Affairs Office responded with an automated reply that it was operating on holiday on-call capacity, and that it would follow up.

Fatica told the Tracker that his notebook still had not been returned as of December. Attorney Drago Cepar has filed an ante litem notice on Fatica’s behalf, the first step in filing a lawsuit against the Georgia government. Cepar said the event in the park deserves to be rectified.

“With Ryan, he hasn’t been ‘arrested,’ but his liberty has been restricted, he has been detained,” Cepar told the Tracker.

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