U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Louisiana reporter assaulted during investigation of mistaken release of convict

Incident Details

Date of Incident
March 3, 2022

Assault

Was the journalist targeted?
Yes

Equipment Damage

Equipment Broken
March 23, 2022 - Update

Louisiana reporter struck with pliers, phone damaged

On March 23, 2022, the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office shared a copy of the police report concerning the assaults of WWL-TV journalists David Hammer and T.J. Pipitone 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 reporter David Hammer 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, Hammer said that he and a 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.”

In a tweet a week after the incident, Hammer confirmed that Verdin smashed Hammer’s cell phone that he was using to film the attack.

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.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with information concerning the damage to David Hammer’s cell phone during the incident.

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