U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

KMTV reporter detained while covering Omaha protest

Incident Details

June 1, 2020

Kent Luetzen, a reporter for Omaha-metro CBS affiliate KMTV, said police ordered him to lie on the ground and threatened him with arrest while he was covering a protest in Omaha, Nebraska, on June 1, 2020.

Protests against police violence had spread across the country following the May 25 death of George Floyd. On June 1, demonstrations in Omaha also protested a decision by Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine to not charge a white bar owner, who had shot and killed 22-year-old Black man James Scurlock two days earlier, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Around 9:30 p.m., Luetzen said protesters had spread out after police made a series of arrests in the downtown area. He told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he and colleagues from his station — including KMTV reporter Maya Saenz — were walking away from the main demonstration area after being told repeatedly that they would be arrested if they didn’t leave. At the intersection of Leavenworth Street and South 15th Street, they came across four Omaha police officers who had detained two people.

"They made us get on the ground and put our hands behind our backs," Luetzen said. "Even though we work with them daily and they knew my co-worker, they still made us get down, put our chests to the ground."

Luetzen said he had his press credentials around his neck and a KMTV logo on his hat. He said that Saenz told the officers that they were all working journalists and were leaving the area. After Saenz’s clarification, he said, the officers let them leave.

About half an hour earlier, while covering the demonstration in another area, Luetzen was briefly put into zip-ties and detained by National Guard officers.

When asked for comment about Luetzen’s detainment, Lt. Sherie Thomas, a spokesperson for the Omaha Police Department, told the Tracker that Police Chief Todd Schmaderer had ordered “an overall review of the protests.” Thomas later said that the department sent “clear communication” to news outlets “to make sure employees had visible badges showing that they work for the media” and to “wear highly visible vests.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.

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