Chase Karacostas — a reporter for the The Daily Texan, the newspaper of the University of Texas, Austin — was attacked by a protester while covering a demonstration about immigrant rights on campus on Sept. 1, 2017.
In an interview with the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Karacostas said he had been covering the protest, a demonstration in response to a bill banning sanctuary cities in Texas, for about 20 minutes before he was attacked. He said that a protester knocked his phone into his head while he was conducting an interview. The phone cut his face and forced him to receive treatment at an urgent care clinic.
“I was holding my phone out in front of me while recording, and my assailant came up to me and knocked my phone directly into my face,” Karacostas said.
The Student Press Law Center published audio of the incident and immediate aftermath.
While his attacker re-joined the protest, Karacostas finished his interview and addressed his injury.
“At first I thought it was just a bruise, but then I noticed blood,” he said.
London Gibson, a campus reporter for The Daily Texan who also covered the demonstration, told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that she was interviewing another bystander when the altercation occurred.
“When I turned around, Chase’s face was covered in blood,” she said.
Karacostas said that he walked with his editor, Ellie Breed, to an urgent care center several blocks away, where he received six stitches near his eyebrow.
Karacostas identified the assailant as Eric Nava-Perez, a member of Sanctuary UT, one of the groups that organized the protest. Nava-Perez was arrested by the Austin Police Department and charged with assault. According to the Student Press Law Center, Nava-Perez was held for 12 hours at Travis County Jail and has been banned from entering UT Austin’s campus without permission from the dean.
Nava-Perez did not respond to a request for comment, but Charles Holm, an organizer with Sanctuary UT, criticized Nava-Perez’s arrest. In an interview with the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Holm said that the university’s tactics of policing had contributed to an unsafe atmosphere at the protest and that Nava-Perez felt harassed and defensive due to the presence of police and right-wing bystanders. Jennifer Campbell, another organizer with Sanctuary UT, said that there were multiple police departments present at the protest.
Holm said there was confusion at the protest as to who was a reporter, since multiple bystanders were documenting the demonstration and because the student journalists did not yet have their press badges for the semester. He said that Nava-Perez may have thought that Karacostas was a right wing heckler.
Holm said that, while the altercation was an unfortunate event in which a reporter was regrettably injured, he does not believe it was symbolic of an attack on press freedom.
“There was a general atmosphere of tension that created a chaotic situation,” Holm said.
Karacostas said that, although he was interviewing a bystander who disagreed with the message of the protest, there was no reason to believe he was with the alt-right. Even if he were sympathetic to the alt-right, he added, “it’s still not okay to knock phones into people’s faces and injure them.”
Karacostas was surprised by the randomness of the attack, and in contrast to Holm’s account, both he and Gibson described the atmosphere of the protest leading up to the altercation as relatively calm. Karacostas said that he remains committed to his work as a reporter.
“A lot of blood wasn’t going to stop me from recording,” he said.