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Head wound, bruised lung and concussion for photographer covering Phoenix protests

May 30, 2020

Freelance photographer Thomas Machowicz was shot with three rubber projectiles by Phoenix police, resulting in a gash on his scalp, a concussion, and a bruised lung, as he was photographing protests in the city on May 30, 2020.

The protests were sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, for eight minutes and 46 seconds during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Machowicz was taking photographs in front of the headquarters of the Phoenix Police Department at roughly 10:15 p.m. when protesters began to lob fireworks at police, and police responded by shooting tear gas, pepper balls, and projectiles into the crowd, Machowicz told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in an interview.

“I realized I was in a bad spot,” Machowicz said. As he ran away from the headquarters through a cloud of tear gas, camera in hand, police began shooting rubber projectiles in his direction. The first two projectiles hit Machowicz’s lower back and the side of his ribcage. In pain, he fell down. A few seconds later as he was lying on the ground, a third projectile hit him on the back of his head, ripping an inch-long gash into his scalp, he said.

Video of the assault was captured by ABC15 Arizona news and aired live on television.

“When I got hit in the head, I couldn’t make decisions anymore. I just curled up into the fetal position,” Machowicz said. A few seconds passed before a bystander picked Machowicz up under the arms and carried him to a safe distance from the protest.

After bystanders alerted police to his condition, Machowicz said police accompanied him for a block where he was told an ambulance would arrive. When it didn’t, police drove him to a fire station, where an ambulance took him to a hospital. The process took 30 minutes, he said, during which his head wound bled profusely.

At the hospital, Machowicz said he received four staples to close his head wound, and was diagnosed with a concussion and a bruised lung.

“I definitely have some trauma from it that’s still sinking in,” he said.

Machowicz recounted the incident in an interview with Melissa Blasius, the ABC15 Arizona journalist who captured the assault on camera.

Mercedes Fortune, a public information officer for the Phoenix Police Department, wrote in response to an emailed request for comment that people in the group were throwing rocks, bottles, incendiary devices and fireworks during the incident.

“Every attempt is made to identify the suspect(s) responsible for those actions unfortunately it is very difficult during these chaotic encounters. Several announcements were given to everyone to leave the area. … There is no sure way to control the actions of a large group of people who make a conscious decision to ignore the repeated announcements and direction by law enforcement officials.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred total incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country related to the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Find all of these cases here.

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

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