U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Social media journalist arrested during San Clemente protest, held overnight

Incident Details

Date of Incident
April 23, 2022

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Status of Charges
Charges pending
Arresting Authority
Orange County Sheriff's Office
Release Date
Unnecessary use of force?
No
COURTESY OF TOREY COSTELLO

Orange County Sheriff’s deputies detain social media journalist Jessica Rogers at a demonstration in remembrance of Kurt Reinhold, a homeless Black man killed by police, in San Clemente, California, on April 23, 2022.

— COURTESY OF TOREY COSTELLO
April 23, 2022

Los Angeles-based independent photojournalist Jessica Rogers, who said she shares her work through social media, was arrested and charged with ignoring police orders while documenting protests in San Clemente, California, on April 23, 2022.

The protest was held in remembrance of Kurt Reinhold, a homeless Black man who was fatally shot by Orange County Deputies after jaywalking in front of a hotel in September 2020. According to police, 30-45 individuals had gathered to participate in the demonstration.

Rogers told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she was photographing the march as it advanced toward City Hall, where participants paused to kneel for a moment of silence. As she was taking photos from the curb at about 3:45 p.m, Rogers said multiple deputies with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office came forward and placed her under arrest.

“I immediately said, ‘I am press, here’s my press badge, I am a photographer,’” Rogers told the Tracker, referring to her National Press Photographers Association press badge. “And they told me I was being arrested for being in the street, which later I found out is not true because they are trying to charge me with resisting arrest.”

Sgt. Scott Steinle, a public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, clarified that both Rogers and a second individual who was taking photographs, Juan Gomez, were charged under California Penal Code 148 (A)(1). The law criminalizes willfully resisting, delaying or obstructing a public officer.

“They went out into the public roadway somewhere between four and six different times. Each time, Sheriff’s Department personnel contacted these two individuals who were told to return to the sidewalk area,” Steinle said, noting that that area has a 45-mile per hour speed limit.

Steinle also refuted assertions that the pair were targeted because they were documenting the protest.

“As a member of the press you are supposed to be performing your duties in a responsible manner, and it’s completely irresponsible when you’re told by law enforcement that you are causing a hazard and putting yourself in a hazardous situation to continue to do so,” Steinle said. “They were told numerous times and subsequently they forced our hand and we had to make an arrest.”

Before transporting her to a staging location nearby, Rogers said deputies allowed her to hand off her camera and cell phone to one of the protest organizers. Once she was taken to a law enforcement facility in Santa Ana, Rogers told the Tracker she was transferred in and out of multiple cells, repeatedly questioned about why she was arrested and denied water or access to a working phone for more than 13 hours.

“I shut down,” she said. “I realized that they can and will do whatever they want to me in there.”

Rogers said she was released the following morning at 5:15 a.m. Rogers said her release paperwork orders her to appear for a preliminary hearing on July 22, but her online arrest record lists her next appearance date as May 23. She said she is unsure of the reason behind the discrepancy. If convicted, she faces a fine of up to $1,000, one year in jail or both.

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