Omaha news anchor detained by police, shoved by National Guard while covering protest

June 1, 2020

Maya Saenz, a news anchor for Omaha-metro area CBS affiliate KMTV, said she was shoved by National Guard officers while covering a June 1, 2020 protest in Omaha, Nebraska, against police violence.

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.

After an 8 p.m. curfew went into effect June 1, the World-Herald reported that at least 150 protesters remained on downtown streets. According to Mayor Jean Stothert's proclamation, as reported by WOWT 6 News, members of the media were exempt from the curfew.

Saenz told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she and her KMTV colleague, Kent Luetzen, were covering protests near Jackson Street and South 13th Street when they were aggressively confronted by National Guard officers.

“Guardsmen quickly ran towards the middle of the street and started grabbing protesters and throwing them on the ground and then placing zip-ties around their wrists,” she said. “I started recording on my cell phone and recorded when one guardsman shoved my colleague and I against a wired fence and attempted to arrest both of us and place zip-ties around us. We yelled, ‘We’re media! We’re media!’ and that’s when they let us go, but several others barked at us to leave the scene.”

In a video posted to Twitter at 9:07 p.m., both reporters repeatedly scream that they are media as a National Guard officer grabs Luetzen. Saenz said she was wearing a shirt with a KMTV logo in the top corner as well as her media credential on a lanyard around her neck. “During the forceful encounter with the guardsmen, my lanyard tore,” she said. “After that, I put it in my pocket.”

Luetzen told the Tracker he was briefly put into zip-ties, but quickly released. At the same time on the same block, one of their colleagues, Jon Kipper, was tackled and also briefly detained.

Approximately half an hour later, Luetzen and Saenz were briefly detained by Omaha police.

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 Tracker that he and colleagues from his station, including 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.

The Nebraska National Guard did not respond to an immediate request for comment. 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]

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