U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent livestreamer Jon Ziegler pepper-sprayed and arrested in St. Louis

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 17, 2017
St. Louis, Missouri
Case number
Case Status
Type of case
Class Action

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Unnecessary use of force?


Was the journalist targeted?
Rebelutionary Z

Screengrab from Jon Ziegler's livestream shows a police officer pepper-spraying Ziegler before arresting him, in downtown St. Louis, on September 17, 2017.

— Rebelutionary Z
August 3, 2023 - Update

Journalist gets part of $4.9 million class-action settlement

Independent journalist Jon Ziegler received an undisclosed payout to settle his claims as part of a class-action lawsuit against the City of St. Louis, Missouri, and nearly 400 of its police officers.

The suit alleged that police violated the rights of 84 individuals during protests on Sept. 17, 2017, in response to the acquittal of a former St. Louis police officer in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a Black man.

Officers used a technique called “kettling” to encircle and arrest demonstrators, bystanders and members of the press en masse, including Ziegler. At least nine journalists were assaulted, arrested or both in the kettle that night.

Ziegler filed a civil suit against the City of St. Louis and officers of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in September 2018 for First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations and assault, among other counts. He alleged that while he was livestreaming the protest, he was pepper-sprayed directly in the face by at least six police officers, including as he was being handcuffed with zip ties, and that at least one of the police officers recognized and specifically targeted him as a journalist.

Ziegler later joined the class-action suit against the city.

The city denied any wrongdoing and agreed to pay more than $4.9 million as part of the settlement agreement on Jan. 26, 2023, according to court records reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. The Post-Dispatch reported that the sum is one of the largest protest-related settlements in the country, with an average of $58,500 per person.

Ziegler filed to dismiss his own lawsuit on Aug. 3, and The Associated Press reported that the first settlement checks in the class-action suit were distributed on Aug. 4.

Ziegler confirmed to the Tracker via email on Aug. 25 that he was a member of the class-action settlement, but did not provide further details.

October 1, 2017 - Update

Charges against independent livestreamer dropped

Jon Ziegler, a livestreamer known as “Rebelutionary Z,” confirmed to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that charges related to his Sept. 17, 2017, arrest while covering a protest in St. Louis, Missouri, have been dropped.

Ziegler, who was arrested and charged after the St. Louis Metropolitan Police department kettled about 100 people in downtown St. Louis, told the Tracker charges were dropped within weeks for the arrest.

September 17, 2017

Jon Ziegler, an independent livestreamer also known as “Rebelutionary Z,” was pepper sprayed and arrested on Sept. 17, 2017, while covering a protest in St. Louis, Missouri.

On Sunday 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.

Around 11 p.m., large groups of St. Louis metropolitan police officers boxed in about a hundred people at the intersection of Washington Street and Tucker Boulevard and ordered them to get on the ground, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Ziegler was among those caught in the kettle. At the time, he was carrying a camera and an iPhone on a tripod.

Ziegler told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that police officers repeatedly doused him and other journalists and protesters in the kettle with pepper spray.

“I was drenched in spray” he said. “I remember my tripod looking like it had rained on it.”

He said that while he lay on the ground, one officer sprayed pepper spray directly at his mouth and others physically assaulted him.

“I start feeling jabs in my back,” he said. “All of a sudden, I feel a foot or a knee on the back of my head just pushing it into the concrete and grinding it into the concrete.”

Ziegler said that police officers celebrated after arresting everyone in the kettle, smoking cigars and mocking the journalists, protesters and legal observers who had been arrested. A bystander interviewed by NPR also claimed that officers smoked cigars and mocked protesters after making arrests. Post-Dispatch photojournalist David Carson tweeted a video on which officers can be heard chanting, “Whose Streets? Our Streets,” in mockery of protesters.

Asked about the video, a police department spokeswoman told Reuters: “The Department is aware of the video circulating on social media, and is reviewing the footage. We hold our officers to the highest standards of professionalism and any officer not meeting those standards will be held accountable.”

Ziegler said that officers specifically alluded to and mocked his journalistic work while arresting him, repeatedly calling him “superstar” and taking selfies with him. He said that the officer who arrested him joked that he was his “biggest fan” and bragged that he watched all of his livestreams.

“They were quoting back my tweets to me and quoting back parts of the stream,” he said. “That kind of joking and sarcastic behavior continued inside the precinct with some of the officers.”

Like others arrested in the kettle, Ziegler was taken to a nearby jail. He said that he was held for more than 12 hours, before finally being released on a $50 bond.

Ziegler’s livestream from Sept. 17 shows police officers surrounding the protesters from all sides and pepper spraying them.

Jon Ziegler's livestream of the arrests

Rebelutionary Z

“They maced me for having my camera going,” Ziegler says on the livestream at one point. “We’re all just choking on mace now. We’re drowning in mace here.”

Later in the stream, officers approach Ziegler to handcuff and arrest him. One person offscreen calls him “superstar.”

“You heard them call me superstar on camera, guys,” Ziegler says. “They’re putting on the cuffs real tight, real fucking right. They’re beating the shit out of me. They’re fucking beating the shit out of me! Stop pushing my head in the ground!”

“Shut up,” someone says offscreen.

“They’re pushing my head in the ground, real tight.” Ziegler says, just before screaming out in pain. “Fuck, they sprayed me again!”

As Ziegler is led away from the scene, an officer approaches his phone and shuts off the livestream.

A police department spokeswoman told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that no journalist has made a formal complaint of police misconduct.

"We hold our officers to the highest standards of professionalism and any officer not meeting those standards will be held accountable," the spokeswoman 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."

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