A freelance journalist said a police officer grabbed her, threatened her with arrest and forced her away from the scene of a protest she was covering on June 6, 2020, in Seattle, Washington.
Shauna Sowersby, who was filing for KNKX public radio, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she was working out of the offices of a local newspaper, The Stranger, which is located at 11th Avenue and Pine Street in Capitol Hill. The Seattle neighborhood for several days had been the scene of intense protests against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, prompting standoffs between demonstrators and law enforcement.
From the newspaper office, Sowersby said she had a clear view of a protest happening below and rushed down to the street when she saw police attempting to clear the area.
Sowersby said a Seattle police officer approached her as soon as she reached the street, telling her she needed to leave. “I told him I was press and without going any further or without asking me any more questions he just grabbed my arm, and he's like ‘no, you need to leave.’”
In a video she posted to Twitter from that evening, Sowersby can be heard repeating “I’m press,” while the officer leads her down the street, which had been cleared of protesters and was guarded by police.
In the background, an unidentified man can be heard calling attention to “an accredited journalist” being harassed by a police officer. Sowersby said the officer was walking behind her and kept trying to put his arms around her, in a way she said felt threatening.
In the video, the officer is seen walking close by her as he says: “You can’t be here.” When Sowersby objects, saying she is a member of the press and has a right to be there, he tells her she will be arrested if she doesn’t leave. Sowersby repeatedly asks the officer not to touch her. At one point she asks the officer’s identity, to which the officer says “It’s written right on my chest.”
According to Sowersby, when they reached the end of the sectioned-off street she was pushed to an area where a line of officers were standing. She told one of these officers that her workplace was just down the street and she needed to get back to work. Sowersby said this officer told the first officer to let her go.
“And then the police officer who had me, actually grabbed the back of my jacket, and he twisted it really hard, like in the middle of my back, and just shoved me out of the line,” she told the Tracker.
She said police then kept her out on the street for nearly two hours, unable to get back to her office.
“I could only call the people that were in the office and there was nothing they could really do at that point,” she said. “So we had to wait until they cleared the area and then I was able to eventually go back into the office.”
Sowersby added that no police officer acknowledged that she was a member of the press, despite her shouting it repeatedly.
The Seattle Police Department didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
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 protests across the country that began after the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Find these incidents here.