U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photographer grabbed by Wyoming state representative on first day of session

Incident Details

Date of Incident
February 12, 2024
Cheyenne, Wyoming


Was the journalist targeted?
REUTERS/Nathan Layne

A photojournalist for WyoFile was threatened and grabbed by a state representative on Feb. 12, 2024, while covering the first day of the legislative session at the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne, pictured in this 2021 file photo.

— REUTERS/Nathan Layne
February 12, 2024

A photojournalist for WyoFile was threatened and grabbed by a state representative while documenting the first day of the Wyoming legislative session at the Capitol in Cheyenne on Feb. 12, 2024.

Matthew Copeland, the chief executive and editor of WyoFile, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that they had contracted the photojournalist to document the first few days of the session to get images of the legislators that could be used alongside the outlet’s coverage the next month.

“We had hired him to get a bunch of face shots, action shots, sort of your standard shot list,” Copeland said. “There are hallways that run parallel to the main chamber floors, and reporters are allowed in the hallway and not on the floor itself, and he was in one of the clearly marked areas where photographers can stand and was shooting through an open door.”

The photojournalist, who asked to remain anonymous because he is just beginning his career, told the Tracker that while he was working on his shot list, Rep. Clarence Styvar seemed to get upset when he noticed he was being photographed. To avoid a confrontation, the photographer said he moved his focus from the legislator to other representatives on the House floor.

“I could see [Styvar] in the peripheral of the viewfinder, and he continued to shake his head [no],” the photojournalist said. When Styvar began to come toward him, the photojournalist said he sidestepped to allow plenty of space, as he had with other legislators using the doorway that day.

When Styvar exited the chamber, he came up close to the photojournalist and asked him what he was doing. The photojournalist recounted that when he said he was taking photos for the media, the representative responded, “If you take another picture of me I’ll break your camera over your fucking head,” and made a motion of breaking the camera lens.

“I was kind of in shock at that moment and just responded with ‘OK,’” the photojournalist told the Tracker. “He then proceeded to tell me that he wasn’t the type of guy that I wanted to mess with and that he was very serious.”

When Styvar asked who he worked for, the photojournalist went to pick up the press pass around his neck. “That’s when he grabbed it and pulled,” the photojournalist said. “Not super forcefully, but it definitely made me move forward a little bit.”

According to the photojournalist, when Styvar saw that he was on assignment for WyoFile, the legislator said that he was just messing with him.

“I felt alarmed about my safety throughout the entire interaction,” the photojournalist said. “I felt extremely uncomfortable and awkward being that close to him. My entire body was definitely screaming that something needs to stop.”

The photojournalist said he reported the incident to his editor and others in the newsroom, including Copeland. In an email to the director of the legislative service office the following day, Copeland shared the photojournalist’s account of what had happened and said he wanted to initiate a complaint against the representative.

“What [the photojournalist] described is an egregious breach of legislative conduct, an assault and an attempted violation of his and WyoFile’s First Amendment rights,” Copeland wrote. “Styvar’s behavior is unacceptable by any reasonable measure and cannot be allowed to go unaddressed.”

The photojournalist said he was called to speak before various House and committee leaders to describe the incident as part of the initial investigation.

The subcommittee investigated the complaint, Copeland told the Tracker, and determined a formal investigation by the full House wasn’t warranted. However, Copeland said, the House leadership wrote in a letter on Feb. 16 that they didn’t condone Styvar’s behavior and had taken steps to ensure it wouldn’t be repeated.

In an emailed statement to the Tracker, Styvar denied that the incident took place: “No incident fitting the description you gave happened therefore I cannot comment on it, however a complaint was made by a media outlet that was investigated and dismissed by the Legislative Service Office and the House Legislative Management Council.”

The photojournalist, who is now employed at an outlet in California, told the Tracker that he is undeterred by the experience.

“I’m still very dedicated to the Fourth Estate and this is still what I want to do with my life,” he said. “I’m definitely a bit more nervous now in legislative meetings and with political figures, how I handle them.”

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