Dave Mayers, a producer for VICE Media, and three colleagues were arrested on May 30, 2020, in Minneapolis for being out after curfew while covering ongoing protests.
The protests were held in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25. During an arrest, a white Minneapolis Police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck and ignored Floyd’s pleas that he could not breathe. Floyd was later pronounced dead in a hospital.
Mayers told the Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, that he was reporting on protesters in downtown Minneapolis with three VICE journalists — Alzo Slade, Jika González, and Ellis Rua — prior to their arrests.
The journalists were following a protest at about 8:10 p.m. when several state troopers pulled up in front of them, Mayers said. “They pop out of their cars and they have state trooper body armor on and tear gas launchers and stuff. They cut the protest off from being able to head downtown.”
Mayers said that he and González, a VICE producer, were filming the line of officers when the troopers started firing tear gas toward the crowd.
“It was unprovoked,” Mayers said. “It was a very peaceful protest and didn’t seem like it was going to be confrontational in any way and it turned confrontational very, very quickly. It was the police that ratcheted it up.”
Mayers said he heard a state trooper tell a colleague to get one of the protesters just before the troopers shot tear gas.
Mayers said he saw a yellow tear gas canister hit a person who was standing in front of a correspondent from another network. Once the crew decided that the state troopers were shooting tear gas indiscriminately, they ran down a narrow side street and put on their masks. Yellow and white gas swirled in the air. Mayers said he saw the troopers advancing from the main street.
“One of the police looks down [the side street] at us and points a gun at us and says, ‘Get down, get down, get down,’” said Mayers, who used police interchangeably with state troopers and other law enforcement. Slade’s microphone was still on. Mayers was wearing an earpiece that connected to the microphone and was able to hear Slade clearly.
“At this moment, I was terrified,” Mayers said, noting that the crew included three Black men and González, who’s Latina.
As the state troopers approached, the crew yelled that they were members of the press. The state troopers looked at Slade’s VICE-issued press pass, handcuffed him with zip ties and took him to a police van, Mayers said.
“They looked at my ID and I asked, ‘What are we being arrested for?’” Mayers said. “They didn’t really answer, and did the same thing.” The state troopers handcuffed Mayers with zip ties too.
“We shouldn’t have looked like anything other than press,” Mayers said. “We had tens of thousands of dollars of camera equipment on us.”
The detention took place near Nicollet and Franklin Avenues in downtown Minneapolis, according to the citation that was later issued.
Police took Mayers’ camera, put it in a plastic bag, removed his gas mask, and led him into the police van next to Slade, Mayers said. The van, he said, was in the middle of a street where tear gas had just been released. Mayers and Slade were both coughing from the gas that hung in the air.
They waited in the van for about an hour before moving, Mayers said. The van was partitioned with Rua, a VICE camera operator, later joining Slade and Mayers. González was on the other side of the van with a woman who was not a journalist, Mayers said.
The journalists were transported to the Hennepin County Jail. Their gear was brought there in plastic bags, Mayers said. They waited in the police vehicle while the police determined their charges. Law enforcement included officers from Hennepin and a second county, the journalist said.
Police then took the journalists out of the vehicle and into the jail where each crew member was fingerprinted and photographed, Mayers said. While they were fingerprinted, their plastic zip ties were replaced with metal cuffs, Mayers said.
The journalist said he didn’t see any other people being processed aside from the VICE crew and the woman who was arrested with them though there were about 50 police in the facility, Mayers said.
Each member of the VICE crew was charged with violating curfew, according to the journalists.
After about four hours, the journalists were released and their equipment was returned without damage, Mayers said. The crew walked back to their hotel because their vehicle was in the opposite direction, he said.
Mayers said that a VICE lawyer told the crew their charges would be dismissed. Weeks later, the crew members received a court summons in the mail.
The journalist received a letter dated August 4, 2020, from the Deputy City Attorney for the City of Minneapolis stating that the charges were dismissed, a copy of which was seen by CPJ.