U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent journalist arrested at UCLA ahead of planned protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 6, 2024

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
UCLA Police Department
Detention Date
Unnecessary use of force?

Independent journalist Sean Beckner-Carmitchel filmed as UCLA campus police officers arrested him on May 6, 2024, while he was documenting the detainment of around 40 students who had gathered in a campus parking garage ahead of a planned sit-in.

May 6, 2024

Independent videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel was arrested while documenting the detainments of more than 40 individuals early on May 6, 2024, when officers intercepted a group of protesters on the University of California, Los Angeles, campus.

The Los Angeles Times reported that UCLA police officers detained the students, who had gathered in a parking garage set as the 6 a.m. rendezvous point ahead of a peaceful sit-in at a campus building.

Beckner-Carmitchel told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he had received a tip the night before that there would be some sort of protest action, but hadn’t received details. He said he went to the UCLA campus on a hunch and walked around until he noticed two people running out of a parking garage, chased by police.

Before he was able to enter the garage, Beckner-Carmitchel said, an officer ordered him to stop and provide his identification. When he asked if he was being detained, the officer responded that he was, on suspicion of violating a campus curfew order that was in place from midnight to 6 a.m. Beckner-Carmitchel said he was detained at 5:58 a.m. and was released five minutes later after he said he would call an attorney if he was delayed any longer.

Once in the garage, Beckner-Carmitchel said that 30 to 40 UCLA students had also been detained on suspicion of violating curfew.

“I stayed back at all times to document and watched them get flex cuffed for a little while,” he told the Tracker. “Then, quite suddenly, a University of California police officer just ran up to me, put my hands behind my back and flex-tied me. Quite ironically, he did it poorly, and I was able to live tweet for a while.”

Shortly before 7 a.m., Beckner-Carmitchel posted that he had been arrested. In the clip Beckner-Carmitchel posted, an officer can be heard saying, “This guy right here,” and pointing at the journalist. Seconds later, another officer tells him to put his hands behind his back and to give the officer his phone.

Beckner-Carmitchel can clearly be seen wearing a press credential as officers place him in zip cuffs, in a livestream captured by prominent police critic William Gude. Gude was also arrested at the scene.

In a clip Beckner-Carmitchel posted a few minutes later, a woman who identifies herself as the person authorized to speak on behalf of the students says that she attempted to speak to a sergeant about why they were under arrest.

“As we’re standing and asking those questions, press — who’s holding the phone now — was detained. The legal observers have been detained. Other students who were trying to film what was happening have been detained,” the woman says.

Beckner-Carmitchel told the Tracker that he asked to speak to a supervisor or public information officer dozens of times, and was always rudely shut down.

“At one point I said, ‘Hey, this is probably a First Amendment issue. You should really send that supervisor or PIO over,’” he said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘There’s no way they’re actually going to go through with this, they’re not that dumb.’ Little did I know.”

Freelance journalist Cerise Castle reported that Beckner-Carmitchel was taken to the LAPD’s Van Nuys Community Police Station and that he was released from police custody at approximately 3 p.m., nearly eight hours after his arrest.

Beckner-Carmitchel said that he was told that the charge against him — conspiracy to commit burglary — would be dropped, and he was issued a certificate of detention, indicating that the police were not documenting it as an arrest. He added that the certificate specifically states that they can choose to file the charges in the future, and he is weighing his legal options.

The Society of Professional Journalists condemned his arrest in a statement and demanded that authorities drop any charges against him. “This unwarranted arrest flagrantly violates Sean’s First Amendment right to film police and protesters on public property,” SPJ National President Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins said.

The UCLA Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

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