Journalist arrested while covering LA demonstration

May 30, 2020

Journalist Fiorella Isabel Mayorca, co-owner of video news outlet The Convo Couch, was kettled and arrested by police on May 30, 2020, while covering a Black Lives Matter protest in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles protest was part of Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality demonstrations around the country. The protests kicked off after 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 arrived at the protest at Beverly Boulevard in the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles around 3:30 p.m. with two crew members, including her brother Jonathan. She and Jonathan began to film the demonstrations. Mayorca’s footage shows demonstrators on the boulevard chanting, holding signs, facing off with a line of police officers and then walking with their hands up.

When the demonstrators started to move west on Beverly Boulevard, Mayorca followed and continued filming. At about 4 p.m., protesters headed down an alleyway near Beverly Boulevard and North Fairfax Avenue. The Los Angeles Police Department had blocked off all other streets and directed protesters in the direction of the alleyway verbally and with their hands, Mayorca said. The police then kettled the demonstrators in the alley, blocking off exits and trapping protesters.

“They started to kettle people and we thought we should be OK because we’re press,” Mayorca said.

Mayorca wore a press badge that hung from a lanyard around her neck. She and her brother told police officers they were press, but they were ignored, she said.

Soon, Los Angeles police rushed in. Video of the police entering the alleyway reviewed by the Tracker does not appear to pick up an audible warning from police. Officers began arresting protesters and journalists, including Mayorca and her brother.

Mayorca was put in handcuffs and then pushed up against a wall by a police officer, she said.

“[A woman officer was] seriously groping me. She went in my underwear. They were acting like we were hiding drugs,” she told the Tracker.

Officers placed zip-tie handcuffs on Mayorca. She said they felt extremely tight.

“The worst part of it was the wrists,” Mayorca said. “The way they placed it, it was like our wrists were going in different directions, not a normal position. It hurt.”

After spending about an hour in a police wagon, she and her brother were taken to the Van Nuys police station in Los Angeles, where she said she was held for about two hours and then released.

Mayorca was given a citation for failure to obey a lawful order, a misdemeanor charge.

The Tracker asked the LAPD to comment on Mayorca’s arrest, including allegations that she was groped while detained by police.

In response, the department referred the Tracker to a statement published in June.

“The Los Angeles Police Department continues to investigate allegations of misconduct, violations of Department policy, and excessive force during the recent civil unrest,” the statement reads. “The Department has assigned 40 investigators to this effort and we will look into every complaint thoroughly and hold every officer accountable for their actions.”

In June, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said his office would be resolving the cases of peaceful protesters arrested during recent Black Lives Matter protests in a “non-punitive” way.

Jorge Gonzalez, a civil rights attorney who’s part of a team representing protesters arrested during the recent demonstrations, said the Los Angeles City Attorney has tentatively agreed to dismiss the charges, on the condition that protesters complete an online course on the First Amendment. Gonzalez said Aug. 3 that the team is rejecting the city’s condition and awaiting the city’s response.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Attorney Feuer, told the Tracker 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’s brother Jonathan is a named 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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