U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Getty photographer arrested while covering protest in St. Louis

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 17, 2017
St. Louis, Missouri

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Unnecessary use of force?
Getty Images/Scott Olson

Scott Olson, a Getty photographer, was arrested by St. Louis police on September 17, 2017, shortly after taking this photograph of police arresting demonstrators.

— Getty Images/Scott Olson
September 17, 2018 - Update

Charges dropped against Getty photographer

Getty photographer Scott Olson told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that all charges stemming from his 2017 arrest in St. Louis, Missouri, were dropped in September 2018.

Olson was documenting protests on Sept. 17, 2017, when St. Louis Metropolitan police officers arrested and charged him with rioting and failure to disperse.

Olson confirmed to the Tracker in October 2022 that the charges were dropped approximately one year after the incident. He said this was “typical” because any civil lawsuit against the city for police misconduct must be filed within one year of the incident.

Neither the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department nor the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s office returned requests for comment.

September 17, 2017

Getty photographer Scott Olson was arrested while covering a protest in St. Louis on Sept. 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 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 Sept. 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.

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