U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent videographer arrested during Los Angeles protest

Incident Details

January 12, 2021 - Update

Charges dropped against independent videographer arrested during Los Angeles protest

The charges against independent videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel were dropped on Jan. 12, 2021, according to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Director of Community Engagement and Outreach.

Beckner-Carmitchel was arrested on Nov. 4, 2020, while filming election-related protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Los Angeles officers also arrested videographer Vishal Singh and detained at least three other members of the press that night.

Director Rob Wilcox told the Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, via email on March 3, 2021, that the D.A.’s office made a determination to reject the cases against Beckner-Carmitchel and Singh in January. When reached for comment, both journalists told CPJ they were unaware that the charges against them had been dropped, and that they were confirming with the city and their attorneys.

November 4, 2020

Independent videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel was arrested while filming election-related protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in Los Angeles, California, on Nov. 4, 2020.

Beckner-Carmitchel told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that protesters had planned to march from City Hall downtown to Pershing Square a little less than a mile away. By approximately 7 p.m., most of the crowd had dispersed and Beckner-Carmitchel said he thought he could head out for the night.

A few unmarked police cars moved in on the crowd, and when protesters began taunting them the officers called for backup. Officers then began hemming in the crowd and multiple journalists using a police maneuver called kettling.

“I asked the police where there was a ‘First Amendment Zone,’ as they hadn’t announced one,” Beckner-Carmitchel said, referring to the media staging areas the Los Angeles Police Department have been setting up during protests in recent months.

The officer directed him to the sidewalk and stairs leading up into the square. Beckner-Carmitchel tweeted that while in that press area, officers advanced forward through the intersection and he moved with them to continue his coverage. Officers then directed both him and another videographer, Vishal Singh, toward the middle of the road.

In a video posted by Beckner-Carmitchel of the moments before his arrest shortly after 7:30 p.m., an officer appears to point at the videographer and can be heard saying, “Start with that guy.”

A video posted by Singh shows Beckner-Carmitchel with zip-tied wrists being led behind the police line just moments before officers move in to arrest Singh as well.

Beckner-Carmitchel told the Tracker that while he was taken into custody an officer threw his helmet onto the ground, damaging it.

Singh said that he believed he and Beckner-Carmitchel were targeted for arrest because they were recording and acting as press.

“They very clearly just looked for the people with the cameras who are there the most and just grabbed me,” Singh said. “As I was live-streaming, I saw multiple officers pointing me out.”

The Tracker has documented Singh’s arrest and the detainment of at least two other journalists here.

In the footage of his arrest, Beckner-Carmitchel doesn’t appear to have any visible identification as a member of the media, but he said both he and Singh told police they were press before they were handcuffed.

Beckner-Carmitchel told the Tracker that both he and Singh were cited with failure to disperse — a misdemeanor — and released approximately two hours later. He added that both of them have been ordered to appear in court on March 9, 2021.

If convicted, Beckner-Carmitchel could face up to six months imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000, according to California’s penal code.

Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson Capt. Stacy Spell confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that two individuals had been arrested and cited for failure to disperse. She also claimed that LAPD officers have been dealing with large, disruptive crowds that all subsequently claim to be members of the press.

“We are having an ongoing challenge with individuals who are participating in disruptive activities, taking over the street and failing to disperse but subsequently claiming to be media,” Spell told the Times. “Literally the entire crowd claimed to be media.”

Singh told the Times that during his months of covering protests in LA, he hadn’t heard any protesters claiming to be members of the press.

The LAPD didn’t respond to an emailed request for further comment.

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