U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Louisiana photojournalist assaulted during investigation of mistaken release of convict

Incident Details

Date of Incident
March 3, 2022


Was the journalist targeted?
March 6, 2023 - Update

Man sentenced for assault of reporter, photojournalist

On March 6, 2023, the man charged with assaulting two WWL-TV journalists was sentenced and will serve two years of probation. He was also ordered to pay restitution for the equipment he damaged, the outlet reported.

Photojournalist T.J. Pipitone and reporter David Hammer were reporting on the mistaken release of a convicted pedophile in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, in March 2022. The pair went to the man’s home for comment, not knowing that he had been imprisoned again after some victims alerted the state Department of Corrections of the error.

Before they could approach the home, the man’s brother-in-law, Bruce Verdin, attacked the journalists and hit Pipitone with his truck. Hammer’s cellphone and a microphone were damaged in the attack.

Verdin was arrested and charged with three felony counts of aggravated battery and a count of aggravated damage to property. He pleaded no contest to the charges during the March 2023 hearing, meaning that his attorney would no longer fight the charges in exchange for a suspended sentence, allowing Verdin to avoid jail time as long as he adheres to the terms.

Verdin during his two years of probation during which he is not allowed contact with the victims or to post on social media about the incident. He must also pay $1,100 for the equipment he damaged.

Both Hammer and Pipitone provided victim impact statements at the hearing.

“We are both very lucky because Mr. Verdin clearly wanted to do more harm to us than he managed to inflict,” Hammer said in his statement. “If the criminal justice system doesn't punish those who think they can silence journalists through violence, the right of a free press that's guaranteed by the First Amendment won't mean very much.”

March 23, 2022 - Update

Louisiana photojournalist hit by car, knocked into ditch

On March 23, 2022, the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office shared a copy of the police report concerning the assaults of WWL-TV journalists T.J. Pipitone and David Hammer with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

The report added clarifying details to the March 3 assault of the two journalists, who were attempting to reach the subject of a story on the property of Bruce Vernin, the man police have charged with three counts of aggravated battery and one count of aggravated criminal damage to property. If convicted on all counts he faces up to 45 years in prison, $25,000 in fines or both.

According to the report, Verdin requested that the journalists leave because they were recording his residence and were on his property. The journalists complied, collecting their equipment and moving to another location, but Verdin followed them.

The journalists told police that Verdin struck Pipitone twice with his vehicle while driving slowly, more than attempting to hit him, as originally reported, which caused the photojournalist to fall into a nearby ditch. The journalists then moved to another driveway, which unbeknownst to them also belonged to Verdin.

As Pipitone and Hammer attempted to leave once again, Verdin exited his vehicle armed with a set of pliers, not a wrench as WWL-TV previously reported, which he used to strike Pipitone’s elbow and Hammer’s left hand, damaging Hammer’s cell phone.

March 3, 2022

WWL-TV photojournalist T.J. Pipitone and a colleague were assaulted by an individual while reporting on the mistaken release of a convicted pedophile in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, on March 3, 2022.

In a report for the broadcast station, reporter David Hammer said that he and the photojournalist had gone to the home of Brian David Matherne for comment after he was released more than seven years early from his nearly 30-year sentence. The journalists did not know at the time that Matherne had been imprisoned again after some victims alerted the state Department of Corrections of the error.

“Before we could approach the trailer, we were attacked by the owner of the property — Bruce Verdin — who was arrested by Tangipahoa Sheriff’s deputies,” Hammer said.

WWL-TV reported that Verdin, who is Matherne’s brother-in-law, attacked the journalists with a wrench and attempted to hit the photojournalist with his truck. In footage of the incident, Verdin can be seen repeatedly striking out at the journalists and their camera.

Hammer, who did not respond to requests for comment, identified himself and photojournalist T.J. Pipitone as the journalists attacked in a tweet.

In response to a note asking if they were OK, Hammer wrote that they had suffered “just a couple bumps and bruises.” Pipitone also did not respond to messages requesting comment.

The station reported that the Tangipahoa Sheriff’s Office arrested Verdin on three counts of aggravated battery and a count of aggravated destruction of property. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker was not able to verify whether any of the journalists’ equipment was damaged in the assault.

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