Freelance reporter Cerise Castle said she was detained by LA County sheriff’s officers when she attempted to re-enter a press conference being held on the steps of the Hall of Justice, Los Angeles, on April 20, 2021.
Castle said on Twitter: “I was detained today while covering a press conference hosted by the LA County Sheriff's Department. Yes, I had my press pass.”
The press conference was part of National Victims’ Rights Week, a series of annual events highlighting services for victims of crime and related issues.
John Schreiber, a photojournalist at local LA stations KCBS 2 / KCAL 9, filmed Castle as LA County Sheriff’s officers detained her and then prevented her from returning to the press conference.
In his Twitter post, Schreiber wrote that he and Castle had stood next to each other at the press conference. “When protesters arrived, we both went over to film” them, he wrote. “Then, saw deputies try to block her from coming back. She was later let back in.”
Castle told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that police held her “for between 5-15 minutes” before sheriff’s officers allowed her to return to the press conference. She said she was wearing a press pass issued by VICE, where she had been previously employed, and currently freelances.
Castle, who has published an investigative series on a history of violence within the LA County Sheriff’s department, said she had been working with a few outlets on stories about the department and was pursuing a chance to ask Sheriff Alex Villanueva a question during a question and answer session at the press conference.
Referring to attempts by officers to block Castle from returning to the press conference, the ACLU Southern California office said: “This conduct is unacceptable, and we strongly support journalists’ demands for an immediate change in practice.”
Such incidents “offend the First Amendment’s unambiguous protection of newsgathering,” the ACLU stated. “Journalists, like the public, have a robust right of access to document government activity free of interference from law enforcement.”
The ACLU statement summarized a series of actions by southern California law enforcement agencies toward journalists in recent months, describing them as unacceptable patterns of behavior.
“Law enforcement practices at protests throughout Southern California exhibit a disturbing trend in treatment of journalists—detaining, arresting, harassing, and otherwise interfering with journalists’ First Amendment rights to gather and disseminate information to the public,” the ACLU wrote. “The public interest requires that law enforcement agencies allow journalists to access and cover protests to the full extent of their First Amendment rights.”
When contacted by the Tracker, the LA County Sheriff’s Office said: “We are unfamiliar with the details surrounding this incident and will need to conduct an inquiry to ascertain more information. At this time we are unable to offer further comment, but what we can say is Sheriff Alex Villanueva strongly supports the First Amendment, the right to peacefully protest, and the people’s right to be informed by the press.”