Journalist at advocacy news organization dragged from press conference

August 5, 2021

Grant Stern, executive editor of the news arm of the progressive political organization Occupy Democrats, said he was forcefully removed from a press conference at the Hialeah Gardens Museum in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, on Aug. 5, 2021.

Stern told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was alerted to a press conference with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republican lawmakers via email from the governor’s press office. The email noted that the press conference was open to all and did not require an RSVP. When he arrived, Stern said, he identified himself as a reporter for Occupy Democrats and was granted entry.

“I went into the press conference like anybody else and I was there recording with my audio recorder,” Stern said, “and everything else I did with a cell phone or hand-held camera, recording all of these speeches.”

Approximately 30 minutes into the press conference, Stern said, a congressional staffer approached him and asked him to identify himself and who he worked for. Stern said he identified himself again and offered to show them his Twitter profile and author bio, as he does not carry press credentials with him. When the staffer asked him to leave, Stern said he had complied with the procedure to enter and would leave only if asked to do so by a museum employee.

During the Q&A session at the end of the press conference 15 minutes later, he said, Stern began to ask a question about the House’s proposed Jan. 6 commission. In his footage of the incident, Stern’s camera suddenly begins shaking and moving backward as he attempts to finish his question. Stern said four officers dragged him out of the room on his heels and ordered that he leave the museum.

“I start asking a question and I feel a hand on the small of my back through my backpack,” Stern said. “My first thought was whether someone was trying to steal my journalistic equipment and then I realized that they were searching me for weapons.”

Stern said the officers then grabbed him, pulled him out of the room and turned off his phone recording with such force they scratched the face of his cellphone in multiple places; he said he intends to replace the screen as a result of the damage.

“They dragged me clear out of the room, told me to go away, involuntarily turned off my camera and pushed me out of the front door,” Stern said. “They did not make any attempt to identify me, to arrest or detain me further, to ask me any other questions.”

A spokesperson for McCarthy told The Independent that “congressional staff had nothing to do [with Stern’s] removal.” McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for additional comment.

Stern told the Tracker his left knee capsule was ruptured as the officers pushed and dragged him, and he will need occupational therapy to restore full mobility.

The Hialeah Gardens Police Department did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

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

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