Freelance journalist struck by projectiles, then arrested while covering protest on Dallas bridge

June 1, 2020

Police struck a Dallas journalist with projectiles, zip-tied his wrists and placed him under arrest while he was covering a protest march against police violence on a bridge over the Trinity River in Dallas, Texas on June 1, 2020.

Steven Monacelli, a freelance writer on assignment for the Dallas Voice, an LGBT magazine serving north Texas, had been documenting the march of several hundred protesters from the Dallas County courthouse to the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge over the Trinity River, he told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. The evening of June 1 was the second that downtown Dallas was under a 7 p.m. curfew, from which members of the media were explicitly exempt.

On the bridge, police employed a technique known as “kettling” to hem in demonstrators from both sides. Monacelli was standing between the crowd and a police line, hugging one side of the bridge, when police began advancing towards the crowd, he said. One of the officers fired a wooden pellet, he said, which hit someone nearby before falling to the ground near Monacelli’s feet.

Seconds later, Monacelli was hit by a projectile. “I just got hit in the leg,” he exclaims on a video recording of the incident, which he posted to Instagram. A second projectile then struck his backpack and lower back. “They shot me twice, I’ve been shot twice with wooden pellets.”

Monacelli was wearing PRESS badges on his front and back, but said he didn’t have the opportunity to verbally identify himself as a member of the media before police fired on the crowd. He said it was dark on the bridge and very loud.

Monacelli told the Tracker while he initially suspected the projectiles that hit him were made of wood, he now believes the object that hit the back of his left thigh was a canister of tear gas, because of the sound it made on the video and the size of his resulting bruise. “In various videos of the moment at which I was shot you can hear a loud ‘POP’ and then metal sounding ricochet,” he tweeted days later.

The second projectile he believes was a green marking round, he said. Another freelance journalist on the bridge, Benjamin Diez, captured a video of Monacelli being hit, showing the round that hit Monacelli’s back and backpack gave off a puff of green dust on impact.

Around ten minutes later, Monacelli was then detained with a group of protesters, despite his repeated declarations that he was a member of the media, he said. The officers demanded to see Monacelli’s laminated press credentials, which he didn’t have, and ignored his repeated invitations to view his LinkedIn profile on his phone, as well as his email exchanges with his editors.

“I'm reporting for the Dallas Voice, I've got the email from the editor. I'm a freelance journalist, so I can show you all the information…the magazine I'm with,” he told the police, in a video he posted to Instagram. He said he had emailed his editor, who he hoped would call the police. “Not sure what else I could do to show you who I am.”

“What sort of credentials, when you ask me that, are you looking for?” Monacelli asked the officer standing before him. The officer replied that he wanted to see a press ID on a lanyard. "I'm stuck here because I don't have a laminated card," Monacelli then tells the viewers of his Instagram livestream.

After detaining him over an hour, an officer placed him in zip ties at around 10:40 p.m. and told him he was under arrest. “Are you aware that I am a member of the press?” he said he asked the officer. In response, the officer replied, “you are under arrest,” Monacelli said.

After midnight, an officer took him up on his invitation to look at his email messages with his editor and his LinkedIn page. Satisfied he was a journalist, the officer released Monacelli from the zip ties. He was released without charges.

Later that morning, he snapped a photo of the newly formed bruise on the back of his leg, and posted it to Twitter on June 11. Monacelli documented his experience on the bridge in a story in the Dallas Voice and in a piece for Central Track, a website covering Dallas culture.

Ryan Michalesko, a staff photographer at the Dallas Morning News, was hit in the thigh with a foam round while covering the same protest on the bridge. That incident is documented here.

Asked for comment on Monacelli’s arrest and the use of projectiles that led to his injuries, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department, Sgt. Warren Mitchell, wrote, “We are not at a place we can speak on a specific incident during any nights of the protests.”

The protests were held in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.

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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