U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Woman hits New Jersey reporter covering court hearing

Incident Details

March 17, 2019 - Update

Woman who attacked reporter in New Jersey courtroom gets probation, fines

The woman who hit journalist Taylor Tiamoyo Harris in the face while Harris was covering courtroom proceedings in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 2018 was sentenced to probation and fined for the assault on March 17, 2019, according to court documents reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Harris was at the Middlesex County Superior Court in August 2018 to report on and photograph the sentencing hearing of former Rutgers University football player Tejay Johnson for the newspaper chain NJ Advance Media.

At the conclusion of the hearing, where Johnson was sentenced for multiple robberies, Trudy A. Smith, who was sitting behind Harris, pulled Harris’s hair and struck her in the face.

NJ.com later reported that Smith is Johnson’s brother.

Smith was arrested and charged with assault. She was sentenced to a conditional dismissal, a form of probationary supervision, and ordered to pay $433 in fees and costs.

August 3, 2018

Taylor Tiamoyo Harris, a reporter for New Jersey newspaper chain NJ Advance Media, was covering courtroom proceedings on Aug. 3, 2018, when a woman struck her in the face.

Harris was covering the sentencing hearing for Tejay Johnson, a former Rutgers University football player who had been found guilty of committing a string of home invasion robberies in 2015. Harris had received permission from the judge to take pictures during the courtroom proceedings.

As Johnson was being taken away in handcuffs, Harris said she was sitting and facing forward when she was attacked from behind.

“[The attacker] pulled my hair and hit my face,” she told Freedom of the Press Foundation. “There was a red mark, which went away, but it was scary for me, because I didn’t see it happen and couldn’t defend myself.”

Harris said that immediately after she was attacked, officers surrounded her and took her to another room, where she filled out a statement about the assault. She said that her company, NJ Advance Media, walked her through what she should do.

According to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, a woman named Trudy Smith, faces a municipal charge of simple assault in connection with the attack on Harris.

Harris believes that she was assaulted because she took pictures during the court proceedings. 

“She attacked me because she saw me taking pictures, because I was a reporter, and this took me a while to process,” she said.

Days later, Harris tweeted about the incident.

Harris said that this is the first time that she’s been assaulted while reporting.

“I’ve been out on assignments, courtrooms, at murder scenes… Nothing like this has happened to me before,” she said. 

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