Photojournalist sues L.A. Sheriff’s Department after deputies assault, threaten him
Independent photojournalist Nasser “Nash” Baker announced on May 5, 2021, that he had filed a lawsuit two days earlier against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in response to his assault while covering a demonstration in September 2020.
Baker, who works for the video wire service OnScene.TV, was covering events outside the St. Francis Medical Center on Sept. 12 where a crowd of demonstrators had gathered after two deputies had been taken there following being shot in their patrol car earlier that day. Baker alleges that deputies “pushed, struck and threatened” him while he was documenting officers making an arrest.
Baker filed a claim for damages, which is the precursor to filing a lawsuit, on April 28, 2021, asking for at least $500,000 in restitution. On May 3, he filed the civil lawsuit, according to KTLA 5.
“These attacks endanger our free press and threaten the essential role that journalists and the press have in safeguarding our constitutional rights,” Toni Jaramilla, an attorney representing Baker, said during a press conference.
“We speak for the people who can’t speak for themselves. We film for the people who can’t film for themselves. Because we, as the press, have to be their all-seeing eye,” Baker said.
According to a claim filed against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, deputies “pushed, struck and threatened” independent photojournalist Nash Baker while he was covering officers making an arrest on the evening of Sept. 12, 2020.
Baker, who works for the video wire service OnScene.TV, filed the claim for damages in January 2021 alleging the assault. When reached by the Tracker on April 28, 2021, Baker declined to comment, citing an upcoming press conference.
According to the complaint, which was reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, Baker was covering the scene outside the St. Francis Medical Center, where two deputies had been taken after being shot in their patrol car, according to NPR, and where a crowd of demonstrators had gathered.
According to the claim, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Baker captured footage of “deputies using excessive force and threatening the use of deadly force” against a group of retreating protesters. When he attempted to document the arrest of one protester he was prevented from doing so and assaulted by a deputy: “In order to prevent Mr. Baker from making a photographic record of the arrest, a deputy pushed, struck and threatened Mr. Baker,” the complaint reads. “The deputy can be heard stating, ‘Get out of here or I’ll break your f--king camera.’”
In footage Baker captured of the incident, the photojournalist can be heard repeatedly identifying himself as press as a deputy yells at him to leave the area and shoves him backward.
At a press conference the day after the incident, he stated: “I feel that [the sheriff administration] should take notice that when we’re out there, when we’re filming these events, that all of us are safe.”
Moments after he was pushed down the street, Baker’s footage captured a second journalist, Josie Huang, being tackled and arrested, a case the Tracker has documented here. Huang, who is a reporter for National Public Radio member station KPCC and local news website LAist, shared footage captured by Baker on Twitter the following day.
Baker’s claim for damages, which is the precursor to filing a lawsuit, asks for at least $500,000 in restitution.
“The attack on Mr. Baker was unprovoked,” the complaint states. “The actions of the LASD served to stifle press coverage, to suppress and chill free speech, and to prevent accurate dissemination of news reports regarding the LASD’s treatment of citizens engaged in constitutionally protected, non-violent protest.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to an emailed request for comment as of press time.