Two journalists assaulted while covering a protest in Salt Lake City

July 9, 2019

Two broadcast journalists for local KUTV 2News were assaulted on July 9, 2019, while covering a protest in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Photojournalist Matthew Michela told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he and his team had been covering the protest over Utah’s planned inland port, a logistics and distribution hub, for a couple of hours when a man came up to protesters gathered outside City Hall and began antagonizing them.

Jeremy Harmon, director of photography at the Salt Lake Tribune, told the Tracker that he had arrived at the protest right as the incident began. “There was some guy who had ridden up on his bike and he was shouting at some of the protesters who had just been pushed across the street,” Harmon said. “This guy just kept ratcheting up with more racism, more bile, more transphobia, so I started taking pictures of the interaction.”

Michela also filmed the verbal confrontation as it escalated into a physical scuffle. “It was my job to capture the good and the bad; that’s when the man approached me and put his hand on the lens,” Michela told KUTV.

In the video Michela captured, the man is heard saying, “Stop fucking filming! Turn around!” Michela responds, “I have a right to be here, sir.” The man, holding his hand over the lens, responds, “Fuck you, no. No!”

The man approached Michela from the blindspot on his right created by the camera equipment, and was the first of several people to attempt to prevent Michela from filming. Michela told the Tracker that he was jostled enough to cause the camera to zoom erratically and the recording to stop and start multiple times.

Photos and video taken during the incident show a woman attempting to pull out the cord from the back of Michela’s camera and an arm reaching behind him to pull the camera off his shoulder.

At one point, Michela said, he felt “the camera being thrown from my shoulder towards the ground. I was able to catch it and prevent it from hitting the ground. It felt like people were pulling at me and at the camera.”

Larry Curtis, social media manager for KUTV, wrote in an account published by the outlet, that he “was also at the protest doing a live video on Facebook and rushed into the fray” when he saw Michela surrounded by protesters. In a photo taken by Harmon, Curtis can be seen inserting himself between Michela and some of the protesters.

Michela told the Tracker, “Larry came over and broke up the fight before it got too involved.” In the process, Curtis wrote in his account, his credentials were pulled off from around his neck and his shirt was ripped.

The incident left him shaken, Michela told the Tracker. “At the time I certainly felt threatened and I told the officers that I’d press charges if they ever found the guy,” Michela said. “Normally, to most people, my height is a deterrence. I’ve done this job 10 years and I’ve never had someone lay hands on me.”

During the same incident, Harmon also had to maneuver around protesters who were attempting to block him from documenting the scene, though he told the Tracker that he was not harmed and did not feel threatened.

According to the Tribune, eight people were ultimately arrested over the course of the protest.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly identified Larry Curtis' title.

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

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