U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist arrested covering Dallas protests, camera equipment seized

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 30, 2020
Location
Dallas, Texas
Case number
3:22-cv-01132
Case Status
Ongoing
Type of case
Civil

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Status of Charges
Charges dropped
Arresting Authority
Dallas Police Department
Release Date
Unnecessary use of force?
No
Status of Seized Equipment
Returned in full
Search Warrant Obtained
No
Actor who seized equipment
Law enforcement
The Dallas Morning News/Tom Fox

Tom Fox, photographer for The Dallas Morning News, captured the arrest of photojournalist Christopher Rusanowsky while both were documenting protests on May 30, 2020, in Dallas, Texas.

— The Dallas Morning News/Tom Fox
May 23, 2022 - Update

Photojournalist sues Dallas Police Department, officer following 2020 arrest

Freelance photojournalist Christopher Rusanowsky filed a lawsuit on May 23, 2022, against the Dallas Police Department and the officer who arrested him while he was documenting protests in May 2020.

Rusanowsky, who was on assignment for ZUMA Press at the time, told the Tracker shortly after the incident that an officer threw him to the ground and arrested him while he was documenting protests on May 30, 2020. He was held in police custody for approximately 26 hours and charged with obstructing a highway or other passageway; the charges were dropped approximately a month later.

Rusanowsky’s suit names the City of Dallas and Dallas Police Department Sgt. Roger Rudloff, alleging that he was singled out for arrest because he had photographed the officer violently arresting two protesters.

“At all relevant times before the arrest, Rusanowsky was working in the vicinity of a group of journalists, including other photographers. What differentiated Rusanowsky from these other journalists was not any obstruction of police activity, not any obstruction of traffic or of a highway, and not participation in a riot or the protest he was assigned to cover,” the lawsuit states. “Rather, what was different is that Rusanowsky was identified by Defendant Sgt. Rudloff capturing the sergeant’s own excessive use of force against two unarmed protesters, activity clearly protected by the First Amendment.”

Rusanowsky and his attorney, Michael Shapiro, told The Dallas Morning News they are seeking damages to compensate Rusanowsky for his anxiety and missed work as well as a ruling that deters future arrests of journalists.

“For me this suit is starting a conversation that I hope will persuade the police to let journalists do their work without fear of being jailed,” Rusanowsky told the outlet. “We live in America, and press rights are things we hold dear in our culture.”

July 1, 2020 - Update

Charges dropped against photojournalist arrested covering Dallas protests

Freelance photojournalist Christopher Rusanowsky, arrested while documenting protests in Dallas, Texas, on May 30, 2020, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that charges against him have been dropped.

Rusanowsky told CPJ, a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, via email that he received notice that the charges against him had been dropped approximately a month after his arrest, but that he had no further details.

May 30, 2020

Freelance photojournalist Christopher Rusanowsky was arrested by Dallas police while on assignment for ZUMA Press documenting protests in the city on May 30, 2020.

Protests that began in Minnesota on May 26 have 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.

Rusanowsky, 29, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was booked in Dallas County jail on a count of obstructing a highway or other passageway and was held overnight. He was released on bail the following day.

The count is a Class B misdemeanor in Texas, according to the Texas penal code. If convicted, he could face up to 180 days in jail, and a fine of up to $2,000.

Rusanowsky denies that he was obstructing a highway. He said he had been photographing a group of protesters as they blocked traffic on Interstate 35E.

He said he stepped across the highway guardrail and onto the shoulder to take photographs, taking care not to step into the lanes of traffic. Soon after he moved to a grassy area near the interstate to photograph protesters.

Rusanowsky said he began to take photographs of a police officer shooting nonlethal ammunition at a protester at close range when the officer began pointing and yelling at him. He said the officer told him, “You are going to jail too!”

In response, Rusanowsky said he held up his two cameras and showed the officer his ZUMA-issued press credentials. Rusanowsky said the officer replied, “Yeah, yeah. Press, press. You are going to jail.”

The officer then threw him to the ground, he said, where another officer handcuffed him.

He said an officer seized his cameras and four lenses. He later retrieved the items from police headquarters; he said they do not appear to be damaged.

He was booked into Dallas County jail at 11:38 p.m., according to booking records reviewed by U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, and was released after posting $300 bail the next day. He posted on Facebook about his release.

The experience has left him shaken, he said. “I’m terrified of cops right now,” he said.

“I don’t have training in hostile environment situations,” he said. “This makes me feel very vulnerable. But I believe in this job so much and I want to do this to give people voices.”

An emailed request for comment on Rusanowsky’s arrest to the Dallas Police Department was not immediately returned.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting damage of equipment and multiple journalists arrested or struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas while covering related protests across the country. 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]