Independent journalist says LA police damaged his equipment while arresting him

May 30, 2020

Jonathan Mayorca, a journalist and co-owner of video news outlet The Convo Couch, was arrested by Los Angeles police while filming a demonstration on May 30, 2020.

The protest was part of Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality demonstrations across the country. The protests were sparked by the release of a video showing a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest. Floyd was later pronounced dead in a hospital.

Mayorca told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he arrived at the protest in the Fairfax area of Beverly Boulevard at around 3:30 p.m. along with two crew members, including his sister, Fiorella. Mayorca immediately began to livestream the demonstration. Video shows protesters gathering, holding signs, facing off with a line of police officers and then walking with their hands up and chanting.

The protesters moved west down Beverly Boulevard, and Mayorca and his crew followed. At around 4 p.m the protesters went down an alley near Beverly Boulevard and North Fairfax Avenue because the police had blocked off all other streets, Mayorca said. Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department then blocked all exits, or kettled the protesters in the alley. Mayorca and his crew were prevented from leaving.

Mayorca said he told the police he was a member of the press, but they ignored him. Mayorca was wearing a press badge on a lanyard hanging from his neck.

“We told them multiple times, ‘we’re press, we’re press’,” he said.

Protesters and Mayorca and his crew knelt on the ground in the alley as police officers watched them from a “line in front and behind us,” he said.

“One protester was crying hysterically,” Mayorca told the Tracker. “She threw up.”

Soon after being kettled, LAPD officers moved into the alley. Mayorca did not hear a dispersal order and was not given an opportunity to leave before he was arrested, according to a class-action lawsuit Mayorca joined against the LAPD for alleged federal and state constitutional rights violations. Mayorca’s video of the incident does not appear to pick up an audible warning from police.

Officers grabbed Mayorca, pushed him to the ground, and arrested him, he said. The officers’ actions broke the microphone attachment for his camera.

“It was the height of aggressiveness,” Mayorca said.

According to Mayorca, an officer said his camera equipment was broken before his interaction with police.

The police used zip-tie handcuffs to detain him.

“The police put me against a wall and searched me,” Mayorca said.

The police brought Mayorca to the Van Nuys police station, where he was held for about two hours and then released, he said. Mayorca said he repeatedly complained about the tightness of his zip-tie handcuffs, but the police ignored him.

“It cut off my circulation a bit,” Mayorca said. “It was uncomfortably tight.”

He was issued a citation for failure to obey a lawful order, a misdemeanor.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in June that he would use a “non-punitive approach” to resolve the cases of peaceful protesters outside the court system.

Jorge Gonzalez, a civil rights lawyer who's part of the team representing protesters, said the city has tentatively agreed to dismiss the charges if protesters complete an online course on the First Amendment. Gonzalez told the Tracker Aug. 3 that he is rejecting the city’s condition and awaiting the city’s response.

However, Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Attorney Feuer, said protesters will be invited to a voluntary, virtual conversation about policing, bias, and inequity organized with the help of local cultural, academic and criminal justice institutions.

Mayorca is a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the LAPD for allegedly violating protesters’ constitutional rights to peacefully assemble and protest, using excessive force, and holding protesters in unlawful conditions of confinement. When reached for comment, LAPD spokesperson Officer Norma Eisenman said the “department does not comment on pending complaints.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred 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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