U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Sacramento Bee reporter shoved to the ground while covering protests in California capital

Incident Details

May 31, 2020

Two Sacramento Bee journalists were assaulted and their work equipment damaged and stolen while covering protests against police violence in downtown Sacramento, California, on May 31, 2020.

SacBee reporter Sam Stanton was reporting that night with colleague photojournalist Paul Kitagaki Jr. The pair had been following protests at the state Capitol, which law enforcement had dispersed with flash-bang grenades and tear gas at around 11:30 p.m. As the crowd broke up, Stanton and Kitagaki left the area, soon walking past a 7-Eleven a block from the Capitol that appeared to be being looted, according to Kitagaki.

Kitagaki told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in a phone interview that the city was loud that night and the journalists didn’t hear as two men ran up behind them, hitting them, in Stanton’s words, “full speed from behind.” Stanton was thrown to the ground, hitting his knee and head, and his work iPad in his backpack was smashed on impact. Kitagaki had a camera yanked off his shoulder, breaking his right hand in the process. The Tracker has documented Kitagaki’s assault and equipment damage here.

Kitagaki told the Tracker that he got the impression that the attackers, who quickly ran away after the assault, were looters, unassociated with the protesters, and that he and Stanton were targeted because of the camera equipment he was carrying.

Stanton said he “was just roughed up” and he and Kitagaki intended to continue working that night. However, within 10 minutes of Stanton tweeting about the attack, all Sacramento Bee reporters and photographers were pulled out of the area. Reporter Alex Yoon-Hendricks tweeted the newspaper was concerned for its journalists’ safety, as looting had escalated and police were hard to find.

Stanton tweeted at 11:42 p.m., “I have never willingly left the scene of a news story because of personal peril in my 38 years in the business. But when my editor ordered me to leave tonight, I did it.”

Kitagaki reported the assault to the police the following day, and Kitagaki and Stanton were both interviewed about the attack. The Sacramento Police Department did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Protests in Sacramento and across the United States have surged in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following a viral video that showed a white police officer kneeling on the neck of a Black man, George Floyd, during his arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.

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