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While documenting L.A.’s Echo Park protest, videographer arrested, charged with failure to disperse

March 25, 2021

At least 13 journalists, and likely more, were arrested or detained in Los Angeles, California, while documenting demonstrations near Echo Park Lake on March 25, 2021, as reported to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, on social media and in other news outlets.

As crowds demonstrated against the city’s plan to clear a large homeless encampment, Los Angeles Police Department officers declared the gathering at the park’s northern entrance unlawful shortly after 8 p.m., The Washington Post reported.

Before anyone could exit, according to The Post, a supervising officer announced that everyone was under arrest and officers surrounded the group using a police tactic called “kettling.”

Independent videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was one of the journalists covering the demonstrations who became trapped with protesters in the police kettle.

“At that point, my mindset was: I’m going to be arrested. I can either be arrested and do my job or be arrested and not do my job,” Beckner-Carmitchel said.

In footage posted to Instagram, Beckner-Carmitchel narrates that the crowd has been kettled on Lemoyne Street between Sunset Boulevard and Park Avenue. He appears to be on a sidewalk as he films individuals standing in the street, who are arrested, one by one, by police. Approximately 38 minutes into the footage, officers approach Beckner-Carmitchel and ask that he come with them.

As Beckner-Carmitchel agrees and hands his equipment to one of the officers, some who remain inside the kettle can be heard booing and shouting that he is a member of the press. Beckner-Carmitchel can be heard telling officers that he is wearing a press credential from the National Press Photographers Association, which advocates for visual journalists in print, broadcast and digital newsrooms as well as freelancers.

When asked what would happen next, an officer can be heard telling Beckner-Carmitchel that he will be transferred to a police bus that would take him to a “staging” area; once there, the officer says, Beckner-Carmitchel would be cited and released.

Beckner-Carmitchel told the Tracker that before being loaded onto the bus, a public information officer who knows the journalist spoke with one of his arresting officers, but did not intervene to stop the arrest.

Los Angeles Times reporter James Queally — who was also detained that nighttweeted at midnight that Beckner-Carmitchel was still being held in police custody. In a subsequent tweet Queally said that the LAPD informed him that Beckner-Carmitchel was being held because the department “doesn’t recognize” the credentials he was wearing, and because he had not gone to a “media area” set up by police some distance away from the protest.

Beckner-Carmitchel told the Tracker that other journalists with NPPA credentials were released from the kettle without being arrested, and that, from the media staging area set up by police, it would have been impossible to see what was happening inside the kettle.

Beckner-Carmitchel later tweeted that he had been released shortly after 1 a.m. on March 26 with a failure to disperse charge, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000, according to California’s penal code. Beckner-Carmitchel told the Tracker that he was the last person to be released from the open booking area at the Metropolitan Detention Center where he was processed.

His citation, which he shared with the Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the Tracker, orders him to appear for a hearing on July 30.

“My frustration right now is I could be cutting together 45 hours of footage and doing a report about the people of Echo Park Lake and the activists involved over the past two days,” Beckner-Carmitchel told the Tracker. “Instead, I’m talking to lawyers and checking my Twitter.”

Around the time it was making arrests, LAPD issued a statement on Twitter that reads, in part, “As a reminder, members of the media are also to obey the dispersal orders. Members of the media are to use the designated media viewing area.”

At around 1 a.m. on March 26, as Beckner-Carmitchel was being released, the LAPD posted a statement specifically addressing the detainments of members of the press.

“An unlawful assembly was declared by the Incident Commander after the unlawful activity of individuals threatened the safety of the officers and all those present,” the statement reads. According to the statement, police declared the gathering unlawful in part because protesters were shining strobe lights at police, which can “cause significant injury to the eyes.”

The statement says members of the press were directed to identify themselves and relocate to a media area about 350 feet away from the crowd.

The LAPD statement notes that as individual arrests were made of those inside the kettle, police officers “learned that several credentialed and non-credentialed members of the media were part of the group. Members from the Department’s Media Relations Division were summoned to assist in identifying these individuals and they were released at scene without being arrested.”

The Los Angeles Police Department, which only accepts requests for comment via email, did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

The Tracker documents all arrests separately. Find all arrests and detainments from the Echo Park Lake protest here.

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

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