U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

WDEL journalist’s phone stolen during Facebook Live stream

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 30, 2020

Assault

Was the journalist targeted?
Unknown

Equipment Damage

Equipment Broken
May 30, 2020

Radio journalist Mike Phillips had his employer-issued iPhone stolen by an unknown person while covering protests in Wilmington, Delaware, on May 30, 2020.

Protesters took to the streets of Wilmington and cities across the United States following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after a Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes during a May 25 arrest.

Phillips had been reporting on demonstrations on May 30 for radio station WDEL alongside fellow correspondent Sean Greene.

Phillips told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the protests had been mostly peaceful throughout the day but that during the evening hours he observed some individuals smashing storefront windows and stealing merchandise.

Phillips said that Greene had been broadcasting via Facebook Live with an iPhone at around 6 p.m. when an unknown individual punched him and stole the device.

Phillips said that at the time of Greene’s assault, which the Tracker is documenting here, he had also been broadcasting to Facebook Live. In Phillips’ video, individuals can be seen removing items from a building, which Phillips can be heard describing as “the looting of a store” in downtown Wilmington.

During Phillips’ broadcast, an unknown individual wrenched the phone from his hands and made off with the device. Phillips’ phone continued to record video after it was taken from him, and an individual can be heard laughing as they run away from the scene.

“It was disheartening that I couldn’t keep doing my job that night,” Phillips said.

Phillips later reported the theft of the phones to Wilmington police on behalf of WDEL. As of press time, Phillips said that neither his nor Greene’s phone had been recovered and no arrests had been made in connection with the alleged thefts.

Aside from incidents on May 30, Phillips said WDEL reporters haven’t faced altercations during subsequent coverage of the demonstrations.

“We have covered plenty of stuff since then and have had no incidents whatsoever,” Phillips said.

Though Greene was injured in the field, Phillips said he hasn’t feared for his safety while covering the Wilmington protests.

“Despite what happened to Sean, I didn’t feel unsafe,” Phillips said. “It was more of a crime of opportunity, if you want to call it that.”

A spokesperson for the Wilmington Police Department declined to comment on the incident or confirm whether there was a continuing investigation into Phillips’ report, citing restrictions on releasing such information under Delaware’s Victims’ Bill of Rights.

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.

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