Times-Dispatch reporter detained while covering protests in Richmond

July 25, 2020

Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Sabrina Moreno was detained by police officers while covering protests in Richmond, Virginia, on July 25, 2020.

On the day and into the night of the 25th, Moreno had been covering protests against racial injustice and police brutality that had moved through the city of Richmond and ended up outside the headquarters of the Richmond Police Department. The protest was among the many demonstrations that broke out in response to police violence and in support of Black Lives Matter following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on the 25th, law enforcement declared the gathering an unlawful assembly, creating a “tense scene” in which protesters taunted police officers and shattered the windows of Humvees, Moreno wrote in a message on Twitter.

About 10 minutes later, a flash-bang grenade was thrown into the middle of a parking lot across from the police station where she and other members of the media were gathered to the side of the protesters, Moreno told the Tracker. She said she became disoriented trying to leave the area and dropped her press pass. Eduardo Acevedo, the news editor of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Commonwealth Times, ran to retrieve her press pass and was hit by tear gas. The two journalists ran to another parking lot, where Moreno poured milk into Acevedo’s eyes in an attempt to counteract the effect of the tear gas.

As Moreno leaned down to return the bottle of milk to her backpack, several police officers appeared around the corner of the wall where they were standing, she said. One officer threw Moreno up against the wall while the others grabbed Acevedo, pulled his hands behind his back, and pushed him to the ground, according to Moreno and a video of the incident shared to Twitter.

Moreno’s retrieved press pass fell from her hands as the officer pulled her hands behind her back, she said. She and Acevedo both repeatedly verbally identified themselves as journalists, she said, and they can be heard yelling in the video “I’m press.” The officers eventually released the journalists a few minutes later after inspecting their ID cards, but told them to leave the scene immediately, adding they would be arrested if seen again, Moreno said.

Moreno and Acevedo went to a nearby convenience store parking lot to decompress. A few minutes later, some of the same officers appeared and “were making jokes about how they almost arrested members of the press and told us to go home,” Moreno wrote in a message shared on Twitter.

Moreno told the Tracker the officers didn’t believe her when she said members of the media were exempt from rules dictating an unlawful assembly.

According to an article by Moreno published in the Times-Dispatch the next day, Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith said he would “make a thorough inquiry into the incident and that it will be under review.” Moreno filed a complaint with the police department several weeks later, she said. In March 2021, Moreno was told in a letter that the Internal Affairs investigation had concluded that her claims were unsubstantiated, but that in the course of the investigation other issues were discovered that weren’t in accordance with RPD policy. The letter provided no further details, citing the department’s confidentiality policy, she said.

The Richmond Police Department initially didn’t respond to requests for comment. On April 7 a spokesman said the department had “pulled the file for review,” but wouldn’t be able to comment immediately on the incident.

Acevedo told the Tracker he hadn’t communicated with the Richmond Police Department about the incident. His detainment is documented here.

This article has been updated to include comment from the Richmond Police Department.

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

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