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Sacramento Bee reporter detained while covering protest march

March 4, 2019

Sacramento Bee reporter Dale Kasler was one of three journalists arrested on March 4, 2019, in Sacramento, California, as police blocked off exits and began arresting those remaining at a protest march.

Then-Sacramento Business Journal reporter Scott Rodd and California State University student reporter William Coburn were also arrested. A Bee photojournalist, Hector Amezcua, was shoved to the ground by a bike officer when police began to cordon protesters.

About 100 people gathered around 6:30 p.m. in East Sacramento to protest the district attorney’s decision not to bring criminal charges against officers in the 2018 shooting death of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man. The march proceeded uneventfully and eventually circled back to where it had begun, in a Trader Joe’s parking lot in the Fab 40s neighborhood.

Police spokesperson Sgt. Vance Chandler told NPR that officers gave 10 orders to disperse over a two-hour period. “Shortly after we started monitoring the group at [approximately] 7:30 p.m., we established the group was unlawfully assembling by standing in the street,” Chandler said.

Protest organizers also reportedly encouraged attendees to leave, and many did. Soon after, however, a row of riot gear-clad officers formed a line and began slowly advancing while vans of bicycle officers blocked all side roads, leaving the only exit down 51st Street toward an overpass.

Kasler told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that a line of officers, unseeable at first, waited for them at the end of the bridge.

Police had received reports that at least five cars had been keyed, according to a tweet from Sacramento Police Department Capt. Norm Leong, and shortly after 10 p.m. officers began arresting those that had not dispersed.

The Sacramento Bee reported that 84 people were arrested over the next four hours.

Kasler was live-streaming when two officers approached him and zip-tied his hands behind his back, placing his phone in his pants pocket. “I had held up my Bee badge and explained that I was a journalist but was taken into custody anyway,” Kasler wrote in an account for The Bee.

Within an hour, The Bee’s publisher and editor had made calls to have Kasler released. “Some higher-ups were summoned, I was pulled out of the line and my zip-ties were cut,” Kasler recounted.

Kasler told the Tracker that after giving a brief statement to a sergeant he was given a certificate of release, on which the officer had checked the box for “arrestee exonerated.”

Reporters Rodd and Coburn were also zip-tied, and waited on a curb for 2 ½ hours before police loaded them onto vans heading to Cal Expo, a state fair ground, to be processed.

The Sacramento County district attorney’s office announced a few days later that it would not charge those arrested at the protest, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Sacramento's police department and public safety accountability office are conducting ongoing internal investigations into the police tactics used during the protest, The Bee reported.

“I’m very disappointed the protest ended the way it did. I have many questions about what went on that precipitated the order to disperse and the subsequent arrests,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg tweeted in the early morning on March 5. “No matter the reason an order to disperse was given, no member of the press should be detained for doing their job.”

Kettling—surrounding protesters in order to prevent any exit, often followed by indiscriminate detentions and arrests—is used across the country as a protest response despite the risk it poses to journalists covering the protest.

“I thought I had made it clear to them as they were detaining me that I was a reporter,” Kasler told the Tracker. “I was telling them that I’m with The Sacramento Bee and my colleagues on the other side of the police line, who were not detained, were shouting, ‘This is a reporter! This is a reporter! This is a reporter!’ And it didn’t seem to matter.”

Editor’s Note: While Kasler told the Tracker that he was not told that he was under arrest nor read his Miranda rights, and his experience is widely considered a detainment, the Tracker documents it as an arrest. In our methodology, his detainment for an hour in a context where police had announced that those failing to disperse would be arrested — and were indiscriminately detaining those present ahead of processing — coupled with the certificate noting “arrestee exonerated,” categorizes his experience as an arrest.

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

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