Journalists covering protests for Las Vegas Review-Journal struck by pepper-ball projectiles

May 31, 2020

Two journalists with the Las Vegas Review-Journal were hit with pepper-ball projectiles while covering a protest in Las Vegas on May 31, 2020.

The protests were held in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.

The journalists, Shea Johnson and Blake Apgar, had recorded a roughly hour-long video following the demonstrations. They were walking away from members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department at about 8:45 p.m. when they were hit with pepper-ball projectiles. There was no opportunity to show their press badges, the journalists said.

“We were walking in a group so I don’t see any way we would have been targeted as journalists,” said Apgar, the Review Journal’s North Las Vegas and Henderson reporter.

Johnson described the incident as “jarring” but told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he and Apgar were not targeted as journalists.

“We did not have the time to identify ourselves, and instead I think what we experienced was illustrative of what it was like to be an ordinary protester,” said Johnson, Las Vegas City Hall and Clark County reporter for the Review Journal.

Earlier in the day, Johnson and Apgar showed their press badges to authorities so that they could film the demonstrations.

Aside from some protesters yelling at the police, it was a very peaceful demonstration, Johnson said. The mood of the protest then became more agitated as dusk to dark.

Officers moved the crowd aggressively, Johnson said. They warned demonstrators that failure to disperse would result in a misdemeanor charge. Officers moved the crowd south on Las Vegas Boulevard near Mandalay Bay. They moved the crowd at walking speed and then shot off the projectiles to move people faster, Johnson said.

He said he was hit three to four times with the pepper-ball projectiles, all in the lower body. Tear gas was also used on the protesters and the journalists.

Both Johnson and Apgar ended up in an apartment complex parking lot cornered by the police, unable to walk toward their vehicle. They continued to live tweet and eventually they were able to leave the scene, they said.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department did not immediately respond to the Tracker’s 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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