- Date of Incident
- March 11, 2023
- Private individual
- Was the journalist targeted?
- Equipment Broken
Michael G. Seamans, staff photojournalist for the Morning Sentinel in Maine, was assaulted and his camera damaged while photographing a high school drama competition in Skowhegan on March 11, 2023.
Seamans told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he arrived at Skowhegan High School at about 6:30 p.m. and identified himself as a journalist to a woman in a hallway near the stage. She told him that photography wasn’t allowed. Seamans responded that he was confused why that would be the case, when high school sports are routinely photographed. He said she threw up her hands, told him to do whatever he wanted and then walked away.
Seamans then connected with the director of the Madison High School drama program, his primary focus. Seamans said the director and the Skowhegan vice principal both authorized him to photograph the Madison students in the pre-show area in the cafeteria where they were getting ready to perform.
“At this point I’m no longer photographing anything and only getting identifications of kids in my pictures,” Seamans said. “And now I hear the first person that I encountered, this woman, yelling at the Madison director about me.”
Seamans said he tried to intervene in order to diffuse the situation, saying that he was done and could leave the premises, but she kept yelling over him. He took a step back and made the gesture for a timeout.
“A man, who I later came to learn was her husband, was standing behind be and he points at me and yells, ‘You’re not going to tell her to shut up!’” Seamans said. “That’s when his finger turned into his fist. And his fist opened up, grabbed me by the throat and threw me into a wall. At this point, I’m on my tip-toes, he has me almost elevated off my feet.”
Seamans said that the man continued to hold him there for nearly a minute as he held his hands up and asked for the man to let him go and for someone to call the police. He said the man only released him when a principal from the Skowhegan school system arrived, by which point Seamans’ vision had started to darken from the periphery and he had become disoriented.
Seamans said that one of his cameras struck the wall during the altercation and was damaged.
The school officials then led Seamans to an office where they questioned him for nearly 30 minutes before consenting to his repeated requests for someone to call police. Seamans filed a police report and went to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with a concussion and significant bruising of the neck and throat. Seamans said his primary care physician instructed him during a follow-up visit to remain on leave from work until March 27.
“In nearly two decades of working in this industry, from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the locked-downed districts of Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic to the front lines of Ukraine, I’ve never been attacked so suddenly and abruptly before,” Seamans told the Tracker. “It’s a difficult scenario to articulate.”
When reached by phone, a Skowhegan Police Department officer said he could not discuss details from the investigation, but confirmed that the department had referred the case to the Somerset County District Attorney’s Office. DA Maeghan Maloney, in an emailed response to the Tracker, said that her office is reviewing additional footage from the incident and has not concluded its assessment.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]