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In ‘pandemonium,’ photojournalist arrested, held overnight in NYC

May 30, 2020

Adam Gray, chief photojournalist for UK-based South West News Service, was pushed to the ground and arrested while covering protests in New York, New York, on May 30, 2020.

Protests that began in Minnesota on May 26 spread across the country, sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest the day before. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Gray told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he had been documenting protests all day, and was photographing demonstrations in and around Union Square in Manhattan at around 10:40 p.m.

When Gray reached the front of a crowd of protesters on 13th Street, he said officers started charging the crowd and arresting protesters in what he described as “pandemonium.”

“I’m photographing this happening and I turn and I see this big guy, this cop coming at me,” Gray said. As the officer pushed him to the ground, two of the three cameras he was carrying “smashed” to the ground off his shoulders. Gray noted that luckily the only damage to the equipment was a broken UV lens filter.

Two additional officers then came up and assisted the first in restraining Gray and arresting him, he said.

“I have a lanyard that has my foreign press card in it around my neck,” Gray said. “They stood me up and another guy in white came up — I think he was a more senior officer — and I’m shouting at him as well that I’m foreign press, that I’m a photographer.”

Gray said they asked him whether his press pass was issued by the NYPD, and that he responded no, that it was a foreign press card issued by the US State Department. Gray told the Tracker that the officer said something to the effect of, “Alright, no no no, I’ll take him away.”

Officers then took Gray down the street and passed him off to another officer who was designated his arresting officer and was eventually listed on all of Gray’s arrest reports.

After being stripped of his equipment and re-cuffed, Gray waited on a prison transport bus with 50 to 60 others for half an hour until the rest of the seats were filled. He said he then waited an additional hour outside One Police Plaza due to the volume of arrestees that night.

“At this point, I feel like I’m just in the system and we’re going through with it, I’m being booked and that’s what’s happening. There’s nobody else there that I can speak to or remonstrate with,” Gray said.

After being processed, he was placed in a holding cell with 50-70 people crammed in shoulder-to-shoulder. Gray said that he still had a face mask in order to combat the spread of coronavirus, but most others did not.

Gray was released at around 9:30 a.m. — nearly 11 hours after his arrest — with a desk appearance ticket for unlawful assembly, a misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine.

When asked for comment, an NYPD spokesperson directed the Tracker to the “30 minute mark” of a press briefing held by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea on June 3.

Around that point in the recording, Shea says: “The only thing that I might add on the point of the press: We’re doing the best we can, the difficult situation. We 100 percent respect the rights of the press. Unfortunately we’ve had some people purporting to be press that are actually lying, if you can believe that. So sometimes these things take a second — maybe too long — to sort out.”

The Manhattan district attorney announced in a press release on June 5 that his office would not prosecute unlawful assembly or disorderly conduct arrests.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred total incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country related to the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Find all of these cases here.

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

August 5, 2021 Update

British photojournalist Adam Gray and four other photographers filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department on Aug. 5, 2021, in response to their unlawful arrests or assaults at the hands of police while documenting police activity in 2020.

Gray, chief photojournalist for UK-based South West News Service, was tackled to the ground and arrested while covering protests in downtown New York on May 30, 2020. Gray was held in police custody for nearly 11 hours and charged with unlawful assembly. The charge was dropped on June 5.

On Aug. 5, 2021, the National Press Photographers Association and the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP filed a suit on behalf of the five photographers alleging that the NYPD had violated their First Amendment rights.

The five photojournalists named as plaintiffs are :

“The right of journalists to record the activities of police officers engaged in their official duties in public places is fundamental," attorney Robert D. Balin of Davis Wright Tremaine said in a statement emailed to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. "Yet the NYPD has demonstrated a longstanding custom, pattern, and practice of unlawfully interfering with this First Amendment right and that pattern was revealed with dreadful clarity during the George Floyd protests.”

According to the complaint, reviewed by the Tracker, the photographers are seeking compensatory and punitive damages as well as an injunction directing the City of New York to effectively train officers on the right of the press and public to record police activity in public locations, cease arresting or using physical force against photographers and discipline the officers involved in such instances.

“There has been a longstanding failure on the part of the City to train, supervise, and discipline police who interfere with the media trying to do their jobs,” NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher said in a statement. “With this action, we're asking the court to finally call the NYPD to account for its unlawful practices.”

The NYPD did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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