Photo of St. Louis police by Scott Olson

Getty photographer arrested while covering protest in St. Louis

September 17, 2017

Getty photographer Scott Olson was arrested while covering a protest in St. Louis on September 17, 2017.

That night, hundreds of people gathered in downtown St. Louis to protest the acquittal of Jason Stockley, a white former St. Louis police officer who in 2011 fatally shot Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.

Olson told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that more than a hundred St. Louis police officers converged from all sides on the intersection of Washington Street and Tucker Boulevard, where a crowd of people had gathered. He described the crowd as a mix of a few activists, some journalists and many bystanders. He said that the police ordered everyone to disperse while simultaneously cutting off their exits and then ordered everyone to lie down on the ground and started to arrest them.

“They did it kind of violently,” he said. “A lot of people were pepper sprayed or Maced while they were still on the ground.”

He said that officers pepper sprayed he was not pepper sprayed by police officers, which he attributes to his use of a gas mask.

“One of the reasons I may not have been pepper sprayed before my arrest is that it wouldn’t have had much effect,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I was wearing my gas mask because I was anticipating the use of mace or pepper spray. During the protest, I was wearing body armor, a bump cap, mil-spec eye protection and carrying/using a gas mask. Unfortunately, most of this protective gear is used to protect me from police tactics, not those of protesters.”

Although police did not pepper spray him, he said that that police did forcefully push him to the ground.

“I was holding my cameras, they told me to put them down, I didn’t do that, so I just took a knee, and then they forced me all the way down and then zip-tied me,” he said. “They were telling me to drop my cameras. They would not let me take my camera.”

According to Olson, one officer said “Fuck your camera!” after he asked to take it with him.

A spokeswoman for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that no journalists have filed formal complaints alleging police misconduct.

“We hold our officers to the highest standards of professionalism and any officer not meeting those standards will be held accountable,” she said. “No members of the media have contacted the Internal Affairs Division to make a formal complaint.  If anyone would like to make a complaint of officer misconduct, they should contact our Internal Affairs Division via our website (slmpd.org), phone (444-5652) or in person at Police Headquarters, 1915 Olive.”

Olson said that he was arrested and taken to jail, where he was held for around 12 hours and then released on $50 bail. He said that the police returned his cameras to him when he was released and he does not believe that they were searched.

Before the arrest in St. Louis on September 17, Olson said, he had only been arrested once in the course of his roughly 30 years as a photojournalist. His first arrest occurred in 2014, when he was covering protests in neighboring Ferguson, Missouri.

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