U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Reporter detained, zip tied and searched while covering San Francisco protest

Incident Details

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

A San Francisco Sheriff’s Deputy removes a barricade as the city-wide curfew begins on May 31, 2020.

— REUTERS/Stephen Lam
May 31, 2020

Leonardo Castañeda, reporter for The (San Jose) Mercury News and East Bay Times, was briefly detained by local police while covering a Bay Area protest on May 31, 2020.

The protest was part of a wave of Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality demonstrations across the country sparked by the release of a video showing a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest. Floyd was later pronounced dead in a hospital.

The officer has been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers who were present face felony charges.

Castañeda told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the May 31 protest began at San Francisco City Hall. It was the first day of a citywide 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that was lifted less than a week later.

Castañeda was following the main body of the protest group that remained after 8 p.m. as it continued to splinter off after encounters with law enforcement. Around 10 p.m. the protesters went down an alleyway called Stevenson Street, which connects 6th and 7th streets in San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood.

The San Francisco Police Department “was able to kettle them in and block off both entrances to the alleyway,” Castañeda told the Tracker. “And they immediately started clearing everyone that was inside that alley, which was by that point maybe 30 protesters just because the main group had been whittled down so much at that point.”

Castañeda identified himself as press and was put against the wall alongside the protesters. He said that his press pass was displayed on a lanyard over his jacket. San Francisco police officers searched his pockets and his backpack, but not his notebook or phone, Castañeda said. Then, officers instructed him to sit on the curb with the other protesters. His hands were zip tied behind his back by police officers.

“The police captain in charge of the operation that night came by and said, ‘I can see you’re press. We’re going to detain you but we’re not going to take you to the county jailhouse for processing,’” Castañeda said.

Castañeda captured audio from his detainment by recording a video from his cellphone, which was inside his jacket pocket. During the recording, which he provided to the Tracker, he repeatedly identifies himself as press and references his press badge.

The certificate of release provided by the San Francisco Police Department lists Castañeda’s time in custody from 10:04 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. However, Castañeda estimates that 30 minutes passed between the time he was moved against the wall to when he walked out of the alleyway. A photo Castañeda tweeted at 10:34 p.m. shows nearly a dozen protesters with their hands up on the sidewalks lining the alley as a line of 10 officers appear to advance.

“Just got detained by @SFPD with a group of about 20 protesters. identified myself as press, got zip tied and searched and eventually released. gonna call it a night now, here’s the last shot i got,” the tweet reads.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred total incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country related to the death of George Floyd while in police custody. 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].