U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

St. Louis police shoot University of Missouri student journalist with pepper balls

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 17, 2017
St. Louis, Missouri


Was the journalist targeted?
Columbia Missourian

Davis Winborne

— Columbia Missourian
September 17, 2017

Davis Winborne — a photojournalism student at the University of Missouri — reported that he was hit by pepper spray balls, choked, handcuffed and loaded into a van by St. Louis Police while covering a protest in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sept. 17, 2017.

The protest was a response to the acquittal in Sept. of of Jason Stockley, a white former St. Louis police officer who in 2011 fatally shot Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.

The Columbia Missourian published Winborne’s first-person account of covering the protest.

Winborne writes that he was part of a larger group of photojournalists, many of whom were carrying professional equipment and wearing press badges, who were covering the protest march.

Winborne says that police officers chased the crowd of protesters and journalists and fired beanbag rounds at them. A different group of police officers then drove toward the crowd in an unmarked Jeep and indiscriminately pepper sprayed both protesters and journalists.

When the group of protesters and journalists reached the intersection of Tucker St. and Olive St., Winborne says, a SWAT truck pulled up next to the crowd and officers inside the truck fired pepper spray paintballs at the protesters and journalists.

Winborne reported that he was hit twice by the pepper balls.

According to Winborne, a number of SWAT officers exited the SWAT vehicle and began grabbing journalists and protesters. Winborne writes that a SWAT officer grabbed him by the neck, pushed him into a brick wall and then zip-tied him. Winborne says that an officer removed his respirator and pulled back his helmet, which caused his helmet strap to choke him.

Winborne writes that Chris Burke, a photographer, told the officer, “You need to take off his helmet, he’s choking.” According to Winborne, the officer just said, “I can’t hear you” and walked away.

Winborne says that when he asked one officer whether he was under arrest, the officer replied, “Shut up, motherfucker.” Winborne says that another officer told the group of journalists, “All of you dumbasses are going to jail tonight.”

Winborne says that the group of zip-tied journalists and demonstrators was loaded into the back of a police van and left there for about a half hour before being released.

Winborne said that he was later told that a freelance photographer persuaded the police to release the group on the grounds that they were journalists.

Winborne sharply criticized the behavior of the St. Louis police.

“When police ignore the people who are smashing windows and destroying property in order to focus on handcuffing and berating journalists, it impedes our ability to show the world what is happening,” he wrote in the Missourian.

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