U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

News crew struck by pepper balls on live TV while documenting Louisville protests

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 29, 2020


Was the journalist targeted?
Screenshot via WAVE 3

In this screenshot from WAVE 3, reporter Kaitlin Rust reacts to being targeted with projectiles while covering a protest in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 29, 2020.

— Screenshot via WAVE 3
May 29, 2020

A WAVE 3 News crew was shot at with pepper balls by a Louisville Metro Police Department officer while broadcasting live on May 29, 2020, during protests in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Associated Press reported that protests in Louisville have centered around the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, both of whom were Black. Taylor was shot eight times in her Louisville home in mid-March by narcotics police who broke down her door. Floyd died on May 25, after a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, knelt on his neck for eight minutes during an arrest. Video of Floyd’s death has sparked protests across the country.

WAVE 3 reporter Kaitlin Rust was reporting live at around 9:45 p.m. on May 29 when an officer walked into the frame and turned toward Rust and photojournalist James Dobson.

In the video, Rust can be heard screaming, “I’m getting shot!”

Rust then adds that the officer was firing “pepper bullets” directly at her and Dobson. The Louisville Courier Journal reported that pepper balls are essentially paintballs filled with a powdered form of pepper spray.

WAVE 3 reported that both journalists were struck by the ammunition and suffered minor injuries. The Tracker has documented Dobson’s assault here.

The station’s general manager, Ken Selvaggi, said in a statement, “We strongly condemn the actions of the LMPD officer who tonight repeatedly fired at and hit our reporter and cameraman, both of whom were courageously and lawfully covering breaking news in their community.”

“There is simply no justification for the Louisville police to wantonly open fire, even with pepper balls, on any journalists under any circumstances,” Selvaggi added.

LMPD spokesperson Jessie Halladay told the Courier Journal that the department would investigate the video after the protests were resolved and investigate or discipline as necessary. Halladay also apologized for the incident.

“[It’s] not our intention to target or subject the media as they try to cover this,” Halladay said.

WAVE 3 reported that during the same night of protests, one of its news vans was vandalized.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.

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