Photographer arrested while covering protest at LA’s Echo Park Lake
At least 20 journalists, and likely more, were arrested or detained in Los Angeles, California, while documenting demonstrations near Echo Park Lake on March 25, 2021, as reported to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, on social media and in other news outlets.
As crowds demonstrated against the city’s plan to clear a large homeless encampment, Los Angeles Police Department officers declared the gathering at the park’s northern entrance unlawful shortly after 8 p.m., The Washington Post reported.
Before anyone could exit, according to The Post, a supervising officer announced that everyone was under arrest and officers surrounded the group using a police tactic called “kettling.”
Freelance photographer Vern Evans said he was caught in the police kettle and detained by the police the night of the protest. Evans, a photographer for 40 years, said he sees his job as “documenting history.”
“The police told the whole assembly to leave, but I just continued to take photos,” he said.
Evans said that police handcuffed him for 3 hours and later took him to a police station where he was charged with a 409 pc misdemeanor, for failure to disperse from a place of unlawful assembly.
Evans said that according to his charge ticket, he is scheduled to appear in court on July 22. The Tracker documents all arrests separately. Find all arrests and detainments from the Echo Park Lake protest here.
Around the time it was making arrests, LAPD issued a statement on Twitter that reads, in part, “As a reminder, members of the media are also to obey the dispersal orders. Members of the media are to use the designated media viewing area.”
At around 1 a.m. on March 26, the LAPD posted another statement specifically addressing the detainments of members of the press.
“An unlawful assembly was declared by the Incident Commander after the unlawful activity of individuals threatened the safety of the officers and all those present,” the statement reads. According to the statement, police declared the gathering unlawful in part because protesters were shining strobe lights at police, which can “cause significant injury to the eyes.”
The statement says members of the press were directed to identify themselves and relocate to a media area about 350 feet away from the crowd.
The LAPD statement notes that as individual arrests were made of those inside the kettle, police officers “learned that several credentialed and non-credentialed members of the media were part of the group. Members from the Department’s Media Relations Division were summoned to assist in identifying these individuals and they were released at scene without being arrested.”
The Los Angeles Police Department, which only accepts requests for comment via email, did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office told the Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, that the office had not received a case charging freelance photographer Vern Evans with failure to disperse.
On April 7, Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, told CPJ that the office had not received cases concerning Evans or the seven other journalists who received citations on March 25, 2021.
When reached for comment over the phone, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson told the Tracker that department policy is not to discuss arrests once paperwork has been filed. The spokesperson did not respond to requests to confirm details about this arrest, including if any paperwork had been filed.
Evans was one of at least 19 journalists detained by police using a technique known as “kettling” while documenting protests near Echo Park Lake on March 25. After police surrounded the crowd and announced everyone was under arrest, they began restraining people one by one and leading them out of the kettle.
Evans said that when officers issued the order to disperse, he continued taking pictures until they placed him in handcuffs. He was placed under arrest and transported to the 77th Street Community Police Station in South Central Los Angeles, where he was processed and charged with failure to disperse.
In a phone conversation with the Tracker on May 11, Evans said he had not heard anything about the status of the charges against him.
Despite the lack of communication to the journalists involved, and barring further information, the Tracker is listing the charges against Evans as “dropped” based on the lack of paperwork filed.