Police release statement, body camera footage after reporter pepper-sprayed at protest
A day after a “Justice for Tyre” protest ended with the pepper spraying of a journalist and arrests of at least 15 demonstrators, the Johnson City Police Department of New York posted a press release on Facebook indicating the Press & Sun-Bulletin reporter provided misleading video and false statements.
In its release posted on Feb. 2, 2023, JCPD directly challenged the Press & Sun-Bulletin’s reporting about reporter Sarah Eames identifying herself as press during the protest.
“Regardless of press credentials, she had been warned along with the others to leave the property,” the statement said. “Other news reporters from other media outlets complied and left the property while she chose to remain and trespass.”
The Press & Sun-Bulletin initially reported that Eames had identified herself as press and was holding up her media credentials when she was directly pepper-sprayed in the face. That article was updated a few hours after JCPD posted its statement with a correction and clarification note that she had identified herself as a journalist and presented her press badge multiple times prior to being sprayed. The outlet declined to comment and Eames did not respond to multiple requests.
In body camera footage released on Feb. 3 by JCPD, Eames can be seen with a press badge hanging from a lanyard around her neck. In one clip she can be heard identifying herself as a journalist to the officer who later pepper sprays her.
Sarah Eames, a reporter for the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, was pepper-sprayed by law enforcement while covering a protest in the village of Johnson City, New York, on Feb. 1, 2023, the Press & Sun-Bulletin reported.
The protest was organized on the first day of Black History Month in response to the release of footage from the police beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, as well as the New Year’s Day arrest of Hamail Waddell, a resident of nearby Binghamton. Nichols was beaten by multiple officers following a traffic stop on Jan. 7, and died three days later. Waddell was pinned to the ground by an officer with a knee on his neck in the early hours of Jan. 1.
The demonstration began peacefully at approximately 7 p.m., according to WSKG. A Broome County Sheriff’s deputy ordered the crowd to disperse via loudspeaker, stating that they were on private property. Shortly after, law enforcement officers began arresting multiple people and threatening the crowd with pepper spray.
In footage Eames captured on her cellphone, a Johnson City police officer can be heard yelling, “Back up or you’re going to get sprayed!”
Immediately after, he pepper-sprays Eames in the face. The Press & Sun-Bulletin reported Eames had identified herself as press and was holding up her media credentials. In the video, the spray also appears to coat her cellphone. It was not immediately clear whether the equipment was damaged.
Eames did not respond to an email requesting comment. She shared her footage and photos of her face on Twitter after the incident.
“I had to tap out earlier than I would’ve liked,” Eames wrote in a reply on Twitter.
When reached by telephone, the Johnson City Police Department said that it planned to release an official statement.