Independent photojournalist Kelly Stuart’s phone was allegedly stolen by a protest organizer while she was using it to record a demonstration at a library in San Fernando, California, on Oct. 25, 2023.
Approximately 50 people had gathered outside the San Fernando Library to protest a “Drag Queen Story Hour” with performer Pickle, The San Fernando Valley Sun reported. The protesters blocked the entrances to the library and the event was ultimately canceled.
Stuart, who publishes her photos on her website and social media, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she has been reporting on the protest group Leave Our Kids Alone for the past year. She saw the group post a social media call to protest at the library and came to document the gathering.
As police attempted to escort Pickle into the library, Stuart said the protesters crowded together shoulder to shoulder to prevent the performer’s entry. Stuart continued to document the scene, holding her cellphone aloft, when a man she identified as one of the organizers behind the protest group suddenly turned and grabbed the phone from her hands.
“I tried to get it. I kind of jumped across his body and put one arm over his shoulder and I reached but he took the phone and put it down on his right side,” Stuart said.” I don’t know whether he threw it or passed it off to someone, but it was gone.”
Stuart told the Tracker that police witnessed the altercation and briefly detained both of them, took down their information and released them. She attempted to file a police report about the theft of her phone that day and ultimately was able to do so the following day.
The San Fernando Police Department acknowledged via email the Tracker’s request for a copy of the report, but did not provide one as of press time.
Stuart told the Tracker that the day her phone was taken, she “bricked” it, or rendered it unusable, because it contained reporting notes and source communications.
“I’m lucky that I was given a phone [after the theft], because if I was not I wouldn’t be able to report right now,” Stuart said. “Even if I’m not uploading those videos, for my safety I usually mount my phone to my camera. I wouldn’t go out and shoot without a phone.”