Journalist arrested, charged with failure to disperse, while covering LA’s Echo Park Lake protests

March 25, 2021

At least 20 journalists were arrested, detained or assaulted 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.

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

Freelance journalist Gabriel Fuente, whose work has been published by Salon, The Kollection and 48 Hills according to his Twitter bio, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was among the journalists trapped in the kettle with protesters that night.

Fuente said that those inside the kettle tried to leave, “but police said it was too late. We were under arrest.”

He said that as police continued to make arrests, media were asked to come to the front, and members of the press with press credentials were allowed to leave.

“My partner and I showed our author pages, attempting to demonstrate that we were published journalists, but this was not sufficient evidence,” Fuente said. “We needed to have a press badge.”

Fuente told the Tracker that he was arrested along with his colleague, Sean Edwards, editor-in-chief of The Kollection, and transported to the 77th Street Community Police Station in South Central Los Angeles. According to Fuente, he was handed a ticket with the PC 409 — failure to disperse at the scene of an unlawful assembly.”

Fuente said he was released at 1 a.m. on the 26th and is scheduled to appear in court July 22.

Around the time it was making arrests, LAPD issued a statement on Twitter that reads, 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 reads. According to the statement, police declared the gathering unlawful in part because protesters were shining strobe lights at police, which can “cause significant injury to the eyes.”

The statement says 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 notes 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 only accepts requests for comment via email, did not respond to a 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

Freelance journalist Gabriel Fuente 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.

Fuente told the Tracker he identified himself as a journalist and had his press credentials clearly displayed when officers placed him under arrest. He was transported to the LAPD Metropolitan Detention Center, where he was processed and charged with failure to disperse.

On April 7, Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, told the Committee to Protect Journalists — a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker — that the office had not received cases concerning Fuente or the seven other journalists who received citations on March 25.

Similarly, 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.

Fuente told the Tracker via email on April 27 that he had not received any notification indicating that the charges had been dropped.

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

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