Photojournalist covering Denver protests hit by multiple pepper balls

May 29, 2020

Jan Czernik, a photojournalist for Denver 7 News, was struck four times by pepper balls fired by police while covering protests in Denver, Colorado, on May 29, 2020. The reporter accompanying him, Adi Guajardo, said she avoided being hit.

The camera Czernik was holding was also hit, damaging the lens.

Guajardo tweeted about the experience, initially identifying the projectiles as paintballs:

This incident occurred during the second night of protests in Denver over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis Police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes on May 25. Related protests have spread to cities across the nation.

According to a Denver 7 News story about the protests, police fired pepper balls and pepper spray into a crowd of protestors gathered near where Guajardo and Czernik were standing.

"Earlier today one of our photographers got hit by paintballs four times, including on the camera,” Guajardo later said on air. “We believe it might have been either tear gas or pepper spray balls but at one point my entire face was burning so I know what some of these people are experiencing.”

Later in the evening, Guajardo was filming a live shot, answering the anchor’s questions about Czernik being hit by pepper balls, a group of officers wielding pepper ball guns approached her, forcing her and her crew to retreat. “Where do you guys want us to go? Why are you pushing us back right now? Can we get some answers as to why you’re pushing us back at this moment?” she asks the officers, camera still rolling. “Where are the crowds supposed to go? You keep pushing them back. Where do people protest peacefully?” One of the officers shouted “move back” in reply.

Adi then tells the anchor, “So they’re asking us to move back but they’re not giving us answers. If people want to protest, where do you protest?”

Guajardo declined comment to the Tracker, citing guidance from Denver 7 management.

A request for comment sent to the Denver Police Department was not returned as of press time.

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]

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