U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalist struck with pepper balls during Compton protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
June 21, 2020
Compton, California


Was the journalist targeted?
June 21, 2020

Kandist Mallett, a freelance journalist and columnist for Teen Vogue, was struck with pepper bullets fired by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies while covering a protest in Compton, California, on June 21, 2020.

The protest was organized in response to the shooting death of 18-year-old Andrés Guardado by a deputy three days earlier. The Los Angeles Times reported that approximately 600 demonstrators marched from nearby Gardena down West Redondo Beach Boulevard, where Guardado was shot, to the Sheriff’s Department’s station in Compton.

Mallett told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that while most of the demonstrators had left by around 6 p.m., a small group faced off against a line of sheriff’s deputies in riot gear. In Mallett’s footage of the scene posted to Twitter, at least seven deputies appear to be standing behind metal barricades blocking an alley on the north side of Compton City Hall, across the street from the Sheriff’s Department.

In the video, some of the deputies can be seen pointing their crowd-control weapons at the crowd as protesters shout at them. Mallett wrote that moments after she took the footage, the deputies began to use tear gas and the pepper ball guns on those present, including reporters.

“They shot tear gas, pepper bullets, pepper spray and rubber bullets at us,” Mallett said. “I was struck with the pepper bullets on my arm and my leg and caught in the tear gas.”

Mallett said that the deputies did not declare the gathering an unlawful assembly before opening fire on the demonstrators and members of the press.

“I showed the line of deputies my press pass just to be like, ‘Don’t shoot me,’” Mallett said. “[The deputies] just started doing everything, and I tried to get out of the way, but because we were in that long hallway, there was no way to escape without being in their aim.”

Mallett said that while she was coughing a lot and her eyes were irritated, she did not seek medical attention at the scene.

When asked whether she felt she had been targeted, Mallett said that many of those in the area were clearly identified as members of the press when the deputies opened fire.

“I did feel like the deputies just didn’t care that there were members of the press, and that their response was unnecessary and unprovoked,” Mallett said.

Freelance photojournalist Ringo Chiu was also struck with crowd-control munitions while covering the protests that day. The Tracker has documented his case here.

KTLA reported that the Sheriff’s Department confirmed that its deputies had used flash-bang grenades, pepper balls and smoke grenades on demonstrators that day, but did not provide details about what triggered their use.

The Sheriff’s Department did not respond to the Tracker’s requests for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented hundreds of incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country in 2020. Find these incidents here.

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