Photojournalist files lawsuit against LAPD
Independent photojournalist Nicholas Stern filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore and several unidentified officers on May 3, 2021, alleging multiple abuses while covering a protest almost a year prior.
Stern, whose work has been published by The Guardian, CNN, and The New York Times among others, was covering protests in the city’s Fairfax District on May 30, 2020, as documented by the Tracker.
According to a press release from the law firm representing him, Stern was targeted by an LAPD officer with a rubber bullet, repeatedly struck with a baton, grazed by a second rubber bullet and deliberately pepper sprayed that day.
“Stern suddenly realized he was in danger as he looked through his camera’s viewfinder while taking pictures of the scene and saw an LAPD officer directly pointing a projectile weapon in his direction,” the statement reads. “With no pretext – and while Stern was pulling out his press credentials – the officer fired the weapon, shooting a rubber bullet that forcefully hit Stern in his upper right thigh.”
V. James DeSimone, a civil rights attorney representing Stern, said during a press conference: “As many of you know, the LAPD has ceased to draw a distinction between those who are covering the protests and those who are involved in the protests. And as a result, journalists are being targeted, in some instances arrested and, in the case of Nick Stern, shot directly at, hit with batons repeatedly while he was trying to cover that event.
“In a situation where he should have the freedom of the press to cover an event, he felt so attacked by the LAPD he went home that evening. That puts a chill on the First Amendment.”
Independent photojournalist Nick Stern said he was shot by police with crowd-control projectiles twice while covering a protest in Los Angeles, California on May 30, 2020.
The L.A. protest was one of many held across the country in response to a video showing the police killing of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.
The demonstration that began in the city’s Fairfax District started out peaceful, but tensions escalated later in the day as police cars were set on fire and law enforcement used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters, according to LAist.
Stern, whose work has been published by the Daily Mail and other publications, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he followed the protest from Pan Pacific Park as the crowd moved through the neighborhood, coming to a halt at the intersection of Third Street and Fairfax Avenue around 2:30 p.m. When a line of police formed to block the route along Third Street, Stern said he was among the protesters, at the front of the crowd.
The police would occasionally shout “move back” and use batons to push the crowd of protesters back.
Stern said an officer was very aggressive with him, even though he was displaying press credentials and holding two professional cameras. He said the officers prodded him repeatedly in the ribs with a baton. Frustrated, Stern moved within the crowd of protesters to another area, but a second officer started jabbing him with a baton, he said.
The Los Angeles Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Stern said he moved again to another area within the protest group and displayed his press credentials to an officer who led him through the skirmish line, away from the crowd.
Stern said he was standing about 10 feet behind the line of police. He said he brought his camera up to his face to start taking photographs of a group of officers carrying crowd-control weapons as they walked under a cloud of smoke billowing from a police car that had been set on fire.
“As I started taking the picture I realized that one of the cops has got his 40-millimeter gun actually pointing straight at me,” Stern said.
Stern told the Tracker he used his other hand to grab his press credentials, which were hanging from his neck on a lanyard, and held it up by the side of his face. He said he also shouted out that he was a journalist.
Then the officer fired, shooting Stern on his right thigh with a 40-millimeter crowd-dispersal round, Stern told the Tracker.
Stern said he wasn’t near any protesters when he was shot. He said he was the only civilian on that side of the police line and other officers were at least two yards away from him.
About half an hour later, Stern said that he was standing talking with another journalist on the police side of the skirmish line when another round grazed his left knee. He said he didn’t see where the projectile came from, but he said both he and the other journalist were clearly identifiable as members of the press.
Stern said he believed he was targeted because he was a journalist. In addition to shouting out that he was a journalist and showing his press credentials, he said he was carrying two large Nikon cameras.
“It's clear that I was not a protester,” Stern said. “I see no other reason why I was targeted. I was not chanting, not acting aggressively.
Stern said the shot on his right thigh was intensely painful. He had a bruise and said he had difficulty walking for about a week because it was painful to put pressure on that leg.