Charges dropped against VICE Media reporter arrested while covering Minneapolis protests
Charges were dismissed on Aug. 11, 2020, against Alzo Slade, a reporter for VICE Media, for violating the city’s curfew order according to filings the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office shared with the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Slade, along with three of his colleagues, were detained and fingerprinted for violating the city’s curfew order while documenting the first weekend of protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest on May 26.
According to the filing, the official charge brought against Slade was failure to comply with a lawful order, and it was dismissed under prosecutorial discretion.
Alzo Slade, a reporter for VICE Media, and three colleagues were detained and fingerprinted by police on May 30 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for being out after curfew while covering ongoing protests, according to Slade.
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.
Slade told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he was reporting on protests in downtown Minneapolis with three other VICE journalists when they encountered a long line of police in riot gear forming a wall to block the street. Slade said that the police began spraying tear gas and pepper spray. He realized that the crew — producers and camera operators Jika Gonzalez, Elis Rua, and Dave Mayer — needed to turn away to put on the gas masks they were carrying.
“We didn’t go into a peaceful protest wearing gas masks and flak jackets because visually that just says that you’re expecting trouble and that you’re looking for trouble,” Slade said.
The journalist said that he and his colleagues ducked into an alleyway and turned around to see that riot police had followed them.
“We immediately announced that we’re press, but they told us to get down on the ground,” Slade said. “We comply 100 percent. We get down on the ground and as a police officer walks toward us, I hold my credentials up and I say ‘I’m press, we’re press, sir!’,” Slade said.
A police officer then proceeded to use zip ties to secure Slade’s hands behind his back while his gas mask was still on, he said. The other crew members also had their hands zip tied behind their back.
“It is important to note that in this crew, there are four people and three of us are Black men,” Slade said.
Slade said that the officer, a Minnesota State Trooper, then asked to see his credentials. He managed to show the officer, despite having his hands tied behind his back. The journalist said he was then passed to another officer who placed Slade and his crew into a wagon in the middle of the street that was still thick with teargas and pepper spray. Police removed his gas mask while Gonzalez was sent to another part of the police wagon with other women.
“One of the crew asks for masks; they tell us we’re going to get masks when we get down to the station,” Slade said. Instead, he said, they sat in the van for about 25 minutes.
At the station, Slade said they waited for officers to figure out their case number before each crew member was fingerprinted.
“They gave us [each] a citation and VICE’s attorney immediately contacted the state of Minnesota and filed grievances,” Slade said. “The state of Minnesota assured us that [the citations] would not go on our record and that [they] would be dropped.”
About a week later, Slade and the other VICE crew members received a notification in the mail with a court date, Slade said. The notice said failure to appear would result in a bench warrant.
The Commissioner for the Department of Corrections has since confirmed to VICE that the dismissals are forthcoming, according to a VICE spokesperson, who corresponded with CPJ via email.
According to news reports, the media was exempt from curfew the night the VICE crew was arrested.
“What added insult to injury is that we lost a night of coverage,” Slade said. “We were not able to cover the protests that night. We were not able to cover the aggression by law enforcement that night, so that’s really what kind of stung just as much.”
The Minneapolis Police and Minnesota State Patrol did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.