Independent journalist charged with failure to disperse while reporting at Echo Park Lake demonstration

March 25, 2021

At least 17 journalists were arrested or detained in Los Angeles, California, while documenting demonstrations near Echo Park Lake on March 25, 2021, as reported to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, on social media and in other news outlets.

As crowds demonstrated against the city’s plan to clear a large homeless encampment, Los Angeles Police Department officers declared the gathering at the park’s northern entrance unlawful shortly after 8 p.m., The Washington Post reported.

According to The Post, before anyone could exit, a supervising officer announced that everyone was under arrest and officers surrounded the group using a police tactic called “kettling.”

Independent journalist and documentary producer Steven Gute told the Tracker that at around 7:15 p.m. he’d arrived at the north entrance of the park, where demonstrators had gathered for the second night in a row. LAPD officers had established a perimeter around the park and a crowd had gathered near the intersection of Park Avenue and Lemoyne Street, facing off with a line of police.

In footage Gute posted to Facebook, the crowd can be seen backing away from the officers in sync, chanting, “One! Two! One! Two!” Seconds later, an officer can be heard announcing, “You are all under arrest. You are no longer free to leave.”

Gute told the Tracker that he did not hear officers give a dispersal warning or order members of the press to relocate to a media staging area.

“While we were kettled and sandwiched together, officers started arresting people one by one,” Gute said. The video posted to Gute’s Facebook ends with a clip from another angle showing officers placing him under arrest.

Gute told the Tracker he has credentials from the National Press Photographers Association but was not wearing them that night. He identified himself as press when officers approached him, he said, but they still arrested him.

“After they grabbed me, they put the flex cuffs on and we sat around for at least an hour and a half or two hours on the sidewalk waiting for the buses to come,” Gute said.

Gute said he was transported to the 77th Street Community Police Station in South Los Angeles, where he was processed and charged with failure to disperse, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000, according to California’s penal code. Gute said he was released shortly after midnight.

Gute’s citation orders him to appear in court for a hearing on July 22 at 8 a.m.

Around the time it was making arrests, LAPD issued a statement on Twitter that read, in part, “As a reminder, members of the media are also to obey the dispersal orders. Members of the media are to use the designated media viewing area.”

At around 1 a.m. on March 26, the LAPD posted another statement, specifically addressing the detainments of members of the press.

“An unlawful assembly was declared by the Incident Commander after the unlawful activity of individuals threatened the safety of the officers and all those present,” the statement read. According to the statement, police declared the gathering unlawful in part because protesters were shining strobe lights at police, which could “cause significant injury to the eyes.”

The statement said members of the press were directed to identify themselves and relocate to a media area about 350 feet away from the crowd.

The LAPD statement noted that as individual arrests were made of those inside the kettle, police officers “learned that several credentialed and non-credentialed members of the media were part of the group. Members from the Department’s Media Relations Division were summoned to assist in identifying these individuals and they were released at scene without being arrested.”

The Los Angeles Police Department, which accepts requests for comment only via email, did not respond to the Tracker’s request for further comment.

The Tracker documents all arrests separately. Find all documented press freedom violations from the Echo Park Lake protests here.

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

April 7, 2021 Update

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office told the Committee to Protect Journalists — a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker — that the office had not received a case charging independent journalist and documentary producer Steven Gute with failure to disperse.

Gute was one of at least 19 journalists detained by police using a technique known as “kettling” while documenting protests near Echo Park Lake on March 25, 2021. After police surrounded the crowd and announced everyone was under arrest, they began restraining people one by one and leading them out of the kettle.

Gute told the Tracker that when a couple of Los Angeles Police Department officers approached him he identified himself as a member of the press, noting that while he has press credentials from the National Press Photographers Association he was not wearing them that night. He was placed under arrest and transported to the 77th Street Community Police Station in South Central Los Angeles, where he was processed and charged with failure to disperse.

On April 7, Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, told CPJ that the office had not received cases concerning Gute or the seven other journalists who received citations on March 25.

When reached for comment over the phone, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson told the Tracker that department policy is not to discuss arrests once paperwork has been filed. The spokesperson did not respond to requests to confirm details about this arrest, including if any paperwork had been filed.

Barring further information, the Tracker is listing the charges against Gute as “dropped” based on the lack of paperwork filed.

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