Photojournalist arrested covering Las Vegas protest
Ellen Schmidt, a photojournalist on staff at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and Bridget Bennett, a freelance photographer working for Agence France-Presse, were arrested on May 29, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The journalists were covering protests that broke out in response to the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A video posted on Twitter shows a group of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers shoving and grabbing Schmidt, and throwing Bennett to the ground, before arresting the women.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo later told the Nevada Independent that Schmidt and Bennett had ignored LVMPD officers’ orders to disperse and did not identify themselves as members of the media. But in an interview with the Review-Journal, Schmidt said that she and Bennett had in fact repeatedly identified themselves as a member of the press and were wearing their press badges at the time that they were arrested.
“It is appalling that Las Vegas police officers, who have nothing to do with what happened in Minnesota, would so forcefully take into custody two people who were obviously working photojournalists and posed no threat to law enforcement or public safety,” Review-Journal executive editor Glenn Cook said in a statement. “They never should have been touched, let alone arrested and then booked into jail.”
Schmidt and Bennett were each charged with “failure to disperse,” a misdemeanor. Although people charged with “failure to disperse” are supposed to be released immediately, rather than being held in jail on bail, both Schmidt and Bennett were held in jail overnight and only released on the morning of May 30.
Las Vegas Chief Justice of the Peace Suzan Bacum told the Review-Journal that the two journalists should not have been held overnight in jail and blamed the situation on a miscommunication between the police and the court system.
“These people should have never been held on these misdemeanors,” she said. “It’s a travesty.”
Richard Karpel, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, condemned the arrests in a statement:
“The press serve a vital, constitutionally protected role during moments of national strife and civil disobedience,” he said. “Journalists put themselves at risk to inform citizens about protestors’ grievances and their actions, and to observe whether law enforcement personnel are operating within the bounds of the law. The arrest of journalists working in a public forum at a highly newsworthy event is absolutely unacceptable."
The Clark County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute freelance photojournalist Bridget Bennett on Oct. 28, 2020, following her arrest at a protest in May, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Bennett, who was on assignment for Agence France-Presse, and Ellen Schmidt, a photojournalist for the Review-Journal, were arrested while covering a protest against police brutality on May 29, in Las Vegas, Nevada. A video posted on Twitter shows a group of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers shoving and grabbing Schmidt, and throwing Bennett to the ground, before arresting the women.
Both photojournalists were charged with failure to disperse, a misdemeanor.
Review-Journal attorney Maggie McLetchie said in a statement to the outlet that while she was glad that the charges were dropped, the journalists should not have been arrested to begin with.
“They were reporting on a significant event surrounding the national conversation about race and policing,” McLetchie said. “And the idea that journalists would be arrested for being present while photographing these events doesn’t pass constitutional muster.”
Bennett told the Review-Journal that though she had not wanted to become part of the story, it was important to highlight the importance of the First Amendment and the danger of such threats to press freedom.
“Because we play incredibly important roles in trying to communicate what happens to the best of our ability,” she said.