U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Syracuse police shove photojournalist to ground, damaging his camera equipment

Incident Details

May 30, 2020

A photojournalist with Syracuse.com and the Post-Standard newspaper was shoved to the ground by a police officer while covering protests in Syracuse, New York, on May 30, 2020, video of the incident shows. The journalist suffered scrapes and bruises and two of his camera lenses were broken.

The protest was held in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.

News photographer Dennis Nett was covering the protests in downtown Syracuse on the night of May 30 with two other photographers and two reporters. John Lammers, senior director of content at Advance Media New York, the parent company for the news outlets, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. At 9:37 p.m., a group of riot police moved to clear the area in front of the Public Safety Building on South State Street of protesters who had broken windows at police headquarters and the nearby criminal courts building, syracuse.com reported.

In a video of the incident recorded by Nett’s camera, the line of officers are seen advancing yelling “move back, get back.” One officer is seen gesturing at Nett and then breaking away from the line of officers, charging towards the journalist, and knocking him to the ground. In a separate video of the incident, Nett can be seen stumbling and then falling over from the assault. The photographer suffered cuts and bruises to his elbow and hip, syracuse.com reported. Lammers told the Tracker that two of Nett’s lenses were damaged from the fall, but that “Dennis kept working with a busted lens and a skinned up elbow and hip.” One of the lenses has been repaired and another isn’t yet repaired due to a Nikon parts shortage, a representative from syracuse.com/The Post-Standard told the Tracker on Aug. 26.

Nett was wearing a press identification card around his neck and had cameras slung from both shoulders, syracuse.com reported. A witness to the incident, Clifford Ryans, told the outlet that he was clearly identifiable as a journalist. “They couldn’t say they didn’t know he was a reporter because he had all the cameras on his person and he was taking a picture as they did it,” Ryans told syracuse.com.

Nett didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

After conducting a review of the incident, Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner said the officer, whom he identified as Sgt. Todd Cramer, had acted with “reasonable and necessary” force and wouldn’t be disciplined, syracuse.com reported on June 12.

In a video of a press conference posted by syracuse.com, Buckner is shown saying that Nett “didn’t comply with the instructions that we clearly gave him and that put him in harm’s way.” According to the report by syracuse.com, Nett told police in an interview about the incident that he “recalled hearing commands from officers a few seconds before he was shoved…[and] was preparing to move.” Buckner said Cramer “did not know, at that moment, that Nett was a journalist,” according to the website’s report.

Tim Kennedy, president of Advance Media New York, said in a statement that the company was disappointed with the announcement. “Dennis Nett was working in the public service and posed no threat to police. He didn’t deserve to get shoved to the ground, in a way that was neither necessary nor reasonable.”

Lammers told the Tracker there have been no further developments related to the incident.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

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