U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist arrested while covering New Mexico campus encampment

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 15, 2024

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Detention Date
Unnecessary use of force?

Photojournalist Tara Armijo-Prewitt and investigative reporter Bryant Furlow were arrested on May 15, 2024, while reporting on student protests at the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque, pictured in this 2010 file photo.

May 15, 2024

Independent photojournalist Tara Armijo-Prewitt was arrested by University of New Mexico police officers while covering a pro-Palestinian protest encampment on the Albuquerque campus on May 15, 2024.

Students, alumni, faculty and community members erected the encampment on April 22 in solidarity with the calls for a cease-fire in the Israel-Gaza war and divestment from Israeli companies, the university’s student newspaper the New Mexico Daily Lobo reported.

UNM President Garnett Stokes sent a university-wide email on May 14 demanding that the encampment be taken down by 5 p.m., according to the Daily Lobo, and 12 hours after the deadline, additional notices were delivered to the remaining protesters ordering them to leave the site within the hour. Officers with the UNM Police Department and New Mexico State Police began dismantling the encampment at around 6 a.m., arresting seven people.

Armijo-Prewitt and her husband — investigative journalist Bryant Furlow — were among those arrested, according to a statement published by New Mexico In Depth, for which both journalists have been contributors. Furlow said that Armijo-Prewitt had been documenting the protests for weeks and the pair went to the campus that morning in anticipation of the encampment sweep.

“Upon arriving on the scene, I asked officers where news media were permitted to stand to document the operation and did not receive an answer,” Furlow said. “I asked officers several times if there was a public information officer on scene with whom I could speak and was told there was not. I also inquired about who was in charge but got no response.”

Furlow also noted that at all times he and Armijo-Prewitt followed instructions from law enforcement and remained behind the yellow police tape.

“We were arrested while photographing the operation and shortly after asking an NMSP officer for his badge number and name,” Furlow said. “As I was being arrested, I said I was a member of the press repeatedly and loudly.”

The pair were transported to the Metropolitan Detention Center and held there for 12 hours, Furlow said, before being released with charges of criminal trespass and wrongful use of public property.

Neither journalist responded to a request for additional comment. In his statement, Furlow said that they wanted to obtain an attorney to fight the charges before speaking about the incident further.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government condemned the arrests in a statement to the Albuquerque Journal and called on the UNM Police to drop the charges.

“Arresting journalists for reporting the news is blatantly unconstitutional,” said the foundation’s executive director, Melanie Majors. “The officers involved either knew the arrests were unconstitutional and proceeded anyway or do not realize their actions are completely indefensible under the First Amendment.”

The UNM Police Department did not respond to a request for comment from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, but told KOB-TV the charges are still pending and officers are completing their supplemental reports.

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