U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Three journalists arrested while covering Stephon Clark protest in Sacramento

Incident Details

Date of Incident
March 4, 2019

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
Sacramento Police Department
Detention Date
Release Date
Unnecessary use of force?
April 25, 2019 - Update

Sacramento Police Department changes arrest status to detention

Reporter Scott Rodd received a letter from the Sacramento Police Department informing him that the status of his arrest was being changed to a detention.

The letter, dated April 11, 2019, also said the department would retain any fingerprint records on file.

March 4, 2019

Sacramento Business Journal reporter Scott Rodd 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.

Sacramento Bee reporter Dale Kasler 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.

In a video Rodd shared on Twitter, police officers informed those present that they would be able to leave if they continued down 51st toward the overpass.

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

Rodd and Coburn were among those zip-tied and left sitting on a curb for 2 ½ hours before police loaded them into vans heading to Cal Expo, a state fair ground, to be processed. The Bee’s Kasler was also zip-tied and detained, but released with a certificate of “arrestee exonerated.”

Rodd was wearing a black T-shirt with “PRESS” in bold, white letters across the front and back, and a hat displaying Sacramento Business Journal credentials. Rodd told his arresting officer and a second officer at the scene that he was a reporter, but neither reacted. Then, he said, he tried to continue doing his job.

“I started asking one of the officers questions about what precipitated the arrest, what situation made them decide that they needed to arrest people,” Rodd told the Tracker. “After a few questions the officer said, ‘I can’t answer those questions because you’re a member of the press and I’m not at liberty to talk about it.’ He acknowledged that I was a member of the press and I was there, I was in flexicuffs, I was detained, and it looked like I was going to be processed.”

After more than four hours in detention, Rodd was released around 2:30 a.m. on March 5 with a ticket for failure to disperse and a court hearing scheduled on June 4.

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.

Courtesy Scott Rodd

Journalist Scott Rodd created a map of the events around the protest and subsequent arrests. Key coloring and descriptions updated by the Tracker.

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