U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

TV reporter Maria Lisignoli assaulted while documenting public fight

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 6, 2018
Des Moines, Iowa


Was the journalist targeted?
WHO-HD Channel 13 News

Maria Lisignoli, a reporter at WHO-HD Channel 13 in Des Moines, was assaulted while filming a public fight. She later discussed the assault in an on-camera interview.

— WHO-HD Channel 13 News
December 3, 2018 - Update

Woman fined for attack on Des Moines TV reporter; charges expunged for second assailant

Charges against the two women who assaulted TV reporter Maria Lisignoli while she was documenting a public fight in Des Moines were dismissed, with a fine in December 2018 for one assailant and expunging for the other, according to court documents reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker and information from the Polk County Court clerk’s office.

Lisignoli, then a reporter for television station WHO, was with friends in May 2018 when she noticed a group of people fighting in the street. Lisignoli told the station that although she was off the clock, her journalistic instincts kicked in and she started to record the fight on her cellphone.

Two of the group then approached Lisignoli, attempting to take her phone from her hand and hitting her in the back of the head, giving her a mild concussion.

Sydney Stuart and Riley VerSteegh were arrested in connection with the incident and charged with assault. Court records indicate that Stuart’s case was dismissed on Dec. 3, 2018, and that she was fined $385, plus court costs. A clerk at the Polk County Court told the Tracker that VerSteegh’s case was sealed and the charges expunged.

May 6, 2018

WHO-HD Channel 13 reporter Maria Lisignoli was assaulted and suffered a mild concussion while she was documenting a fight in Des Moines, Iowa, on May 6, 2018.

Lisignoli told WHO-HD 13 that she saw a group of people fighting while waiting with friends for a cab in Des Moines’ Court Avenue District. She was not reporting at the time, but said her journalistic instincts kicked in and captured the fight on her cellphone.

In the video Lisignoli took of the incident, one woman attempts to take her phone from her hand when she noticed Lisignoli documenting the fight.

"The fight started kind of breaking up and three of the girls kind of back away and start walking toward me," Lisignoli said. "At that point I'm like, okay, people are angry, I should back off, so I turn away and one of them winds up and hits me in the back of the head, and I fall against a car."

Lisignoli was diagnosed with a mild concussion the day after the attack and missed work. Two people were later arrested in connection with the attack: Riley VerSteegh, who was charged with assault causing injury, and Sydney Stuart, who was charged with assault.

On June 13, shortly after WHO-HD 13 aired a segment about the assault, Lisignoli tweeted about the incident.

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