U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Reporter arrested, held for 16 hours while covering Louisville protests

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 23, 2020

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Unnecessary use of force?
REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Police stand guard in Louisville, Kentucky, as people react to a Sept. 23, 2020, decision in the criminal case against officers involved in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, earlier in the year.

— REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
September 23, 2020

Daily Caller reporter Shelby Talcott was held in police custody for 16 hours after she was arrested while covering protests and unrest in Louisville, Kentucky, on Sept. 23, 2020.

Protesters marching daily for months in downtown Louisville were inflamed anew that day after a grand jury decided not to charge police officers for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, in her home on March 13, 2020.

Talcott and Jorge Ventura, her colleague at the right-leaning news and opinion outlet, were reporting from the city center late on Sept. 23 when police began using a controversial crowd-control technique called kettling that restricts people from dispersing.

Talcott tweeted at 10:44 p.m. that police were moving in on a scattered crowd at a park. Video she posted showed a line of officers with shields advancing along a street. A few minutes later she tweeted that police had everyone on the ground, and had begun zip-tying people’s wrists.

In a video Talcott posted on Twitter at 11:06 p.m., she can be heard trying to tell police that they were journalists. “Sir, we’re press,” she repeats twice. “Stay where you’re at,” an officer responds. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented Ventura's arrest here.

Talcott wrote in a Daily Caller article that she identified herself as a journalist to several other officers as she was taken into custody. One officer asked for her credentials, which Talcott didn’t have, but she offered to verify that she was a journalist by calling people who could vouch for her.

When she asked another officer if she was being detained, he told her she was being arrested, she wrote. The officer told her that members of the press weren’t exempt from the city’s curfew or the unlawful-assembly order, she wrote, contradicting previous statements from the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department. Police had emailed reporters that day saying they wouldn’t be subject to curfew or unlawful-assembly orders, according to correspondence shared on Twitter by a Louisville Courier-Journal reporter.

The LMPD didn’t respond to a request for comment about why the reporters were arrested.

Police took Talcott’s backpack, zip-tied her wrists behind her back, and patted her down, before she was taken into a garage where police were processing arrests, she wrote.

Geoffrey Ingersoll, editor in chief of the Daily Caller, tweeted at 11:37 p.m. that he had notified the LMPD that the two reporters were press, and expected they would be released swiftly. A short time later he posted he learned that they would be processed and charged.

Talcott wrote that she underwent a second, more invasive pat-down as she was processed. She wrote in a second account of her experience that she was held in a cell with approximately 28 women, no room to social distance, and not everyone was provided with a mask. She said she was in custody for 16 hours before she was released.

Talcott was charged with unlawful assembly and failure to disperse. She pleaded not guilty to the charges on Sept. 30. A court dropped the charges against both Talcott and Ventura on Oct. 20, the Daily Caller reported.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering these protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].