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Journalist demands response as to why she was shot with projectile when her press gear was visible

May 30, 2020

Independent journalist Sarah Belle Lin was shot with a less-lethal round by a law enforcement officer while documenting protests in Oakland, California, on May 30, 2020.

Protests that began in Minnesota on May 26 have spread across the country, sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest the day before. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Lin told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she was documenting protests in downtown Oakland at around 11:30 p.m. A group of protesters confronted a line of officers who stood at a distance from them; the protesters complied when officers ordered them to disperse.

In a video by Lin posted to Twitter, a handful of demonstrators can be seen walking away from the law enforcement line. Suddenly — and after it appears many protesters had left the area — an officer shoots a crowd control munition at Lin. She told the Tracker she believes the officers were with the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office.

“I’m a journalist! I’m a journalist!” Lin can be heard shouting in the video. “You just hit a fucking journalist!”

“As I crossed the street to get a different vantage point, I was shot in my right inner thigh by a projectile,” Lin told the Tracker. “I instantly fell to the ground upon impact and yelled out that I am a journalist.”

Shortly after Lin had moved to the sidewalk to catch her breath and compose herself, she said the officers continued to shove her forward with their riot shields.

In a video posted to Twitter, she confronts the line of officers. She told the Tracker that she demanded to know the identity of the officer who had shot her and the decision behind it when both her press pass and DSLR camera were visible around her neck. The officers did not respond, she said.

“I’m not fully recovered but healing gradually and still documenting every night since,” Lin said.

A photo Lin posted 12 hours after the incident shows a large, multicolored bruise forming over much of her thigh.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred total 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 cases here.

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

February 10, 2021 Update

Independent journalist Sarah Belle Lin filed a lawsuit on Feb. 10, 2021, against the City of Richmond and 25 unidentified members of its police department after she was shot with a less-lethal round by an officer while documenting protests in Oakland, California, in May 2020.

At the time, Lin told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she was documenting protests in downtown Oakland at around 11:30 p.m. A group of protesters confronted a line of officers who stood at a distance from them; the protesters complied when officers ordered them to disperse.

As Lin crossed the street alone, an officer shot a rubber bullet at her, striking her in the leg. Lin said she was wearing a press badge, had a camera around her neck and repeatedly identified herself as a journalist aloud after she was hit.

The lawsuit, reviewed by the Tracker, stated that after plaintiff Lin was struck by the rubber bullet, she approached the group of officers and demanded to know who had shot her and why. “None of the police officers responded or offered her medical assistance,” the lawsuit reads. “As a result, Plaintiff has been forced to file this lawsuit to identify the officer who shot her, the reason for doing it and to hold the officers accountable for causing unjustifiable physical and emotional trauma.”

The suit requests that the city and the unidentified officers pay her attorney fees and punitive damages for violating her First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Neither the City of Richmond nor its police department responded to emailed requests for comment.

November 16, 2021 Update

Independent journalist Sarah Belle Lin reached an agreement settling her lawsuit against the City of Richmond and 25 unidentified members of its police department on Nov. 16, 2021.

Lin was shot with a less-lethal round by an officer while documenting protests in Oakland, California, in May 2020, despite wearing a visible press badge, carrying a camera around her neck and loudly identifying herself as a journalist.

According to a filing reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the parties reached a settlement agreement and each was responsible for their own attorney’s fees and costs. Lin told the Tracker that part of the agreement required that she not make the details of the settlement public.

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