Joel Franco, a social media producer with WSVN 7News, a Fox affiliate station based in Miami, Florida, was arrested while covering protests in the city on May 31, 2020.
Franco reported the arrest on Twitter the morning of June 1, writing: “I was arrested last night as I was walking to my car after covering the protests in Downtown Miami. Charged with violating curfew. The curfew ordinance exempts media (I had my credentials).”
Franco, contacted on Twitter by the Committee to Protect Journalists, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. WSVN also did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment, sent via Twitter direct messages and email. The Miami Herald reported that Franco no longer works for WSVN.
On June 1, in an interview with WSVN, Franco recounted how he’d completed a livestream of protests downtown and was headed back to his car when he noticed a line of police vehicles that appeared to be looking for people who were in violation of the city’s 9 p.m. curfew order. He said he began to film the scene.
“That’s when they noticed I was filming,” Franco told WSVN. “They just swarmed me, got out of the pickup truck, threw me against their pickup truck, raised my arms behind my back and put a little zip tie on me.”
In his account to WSVN, Franco said that he told police he was a member of the press and that he had his work ID on him. He said police “grabbed” the ID and his phone case and started “acting clueless.”
Franco’s girlfriend was with him at the time. She was not arrested.
WSVN reported that Franco spent nine hours in police custody before he was released on bond for the charge of curfew violation. WSVN reported that the charges were subsequently dropped.
WSVN also noted in its June 1 report that the Miami-Dade Police Department was investigating Franco’s arrest. When reached via email for comment by CPJ, a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the department instructed CPJ to submit a media request on its website. CPJ submitted a request for more information on Franco’s arrest, specifically asking whether an investigation into his arrest had begun or been completed. The department did not respond as of press time.
According to WSVN, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle released a statement at the time saying, “Working journalists, who pose no threat to law enforcement or public safety, have a First Amendment right to keep us all informed of public developments and public news in our community and in every community in America.”
Speaking at a press conference on June 1, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said of Franco’s arrest when questioned about it: “That was a mistake. He should not have been. The media is exempt from the curfew.”
On June 2, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists released a statement condemning assaults by law enforcement on journalists covering protests and asking for investigations to be launched into the unlawful arrest of journalists, particularly journalists of color, including Franco.
Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Movement have been held across the country after a viral video showed the death of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.