U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Reporter detained while covering Oakland protests

Incident Details

KQED/Erin Baldassari

Police in Oakland, California, detain KPIX 5 News reporter Katie Nielsen on June 1, 2020. The interaction was captured by another photographer with whom Nielsen was documenting protests in the city.

— KQED/Erin Baldassari
June 1, 2020

Police briefly detained KPIX 5 News reporter Katie Nielsen while she was documenting protests in Oakland, California, on June 1, 2020.

Protests that began in Minnesota on May 26 spread across the country, sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest the day before. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Nielsen told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she was documenting a peaceful protest organized by Oakland Tech High School students. Approximately 15,000 people had gathered with a plan to march to the Oakland Police Department on 7th Street, but were stopped by a police barricade a block away.

“Protesters started yelling. Officers masked up, and as soon as a protester threw something across the police line, they fired back with tear gas and flash bangs,” Nielsen said.

Police gave dispersal warnings as the 8 p.m. curfew approached; Nielsen said that about a dozen protesters were still in the area at curfew, and police rushed in to make arrests.

“I was grabbed by an officer and told to put my hands behind my back. I kept repeating that I was a reporter and had my credentials right here, visible,” Nielsen said.

A second officer approached her, but walked away after he heard that she was a reporter. The initial officer continued to walk her into the middle of the intersection and handcuffed her.

“The photographer I was with, Erin Baldassari, was not just a few feet away shooting everything that was happening to me,” Nielsen said. “They just held me there standing in the middle of the intersection.”

Five to ten minutes later, a police lieutenant approached Nielsen, verified her credentials and released her without charges, she said. Nielsen said she was only in custody for a few minutes, but, “it was enough to keep us from reporting and shooting the arrests that were happening with the protesters.”

In an interview on KPIX 5 News after the incident, Oakland Police spokesperson Johnna Watson apologized to Nielsen for the arrest.

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].