LAPD detains, then releases, Los Angeles Times reporter covering unrest in Echo Park
Los Angeles Times reporter James Queally was briefly detained by the Los Angeles Police Department as he was covering a protest in Echo Park on Thursday evening.
Protesters were also detained by police, who had issued a dispersal order for the area.
After inquiries by Times editors and its attorney, Queally was released. It was not immediately clear why he was detained, but police had issued a statement a short time earlier saying reporters were subject to dispersal orders in the area.
Times Managing Editor Kimi Yoshino said the paper was outraged that Queally was detained simply for doing his job. The Times immediately protested to authorities and he was released without charges.
In an interview shortly after his release, which occurred around 9:15 p.m., Queally said he was wearing an LAPD-issued press badge on a lanyard around his neck when he was grabbed by two officers and placed in zip ties despite immediately and repeatedly telling them that he was a working Times reporter.
“I was pretty calm, and they weren’t violent or anything, but I was like, ‘Check the credentials, L.A. Times.’ No answer. ‘Check the credentials, L.A. Times.’ No answer.”
Eventually the two officers detaining him called over a sergeant, and Queally again said that he was a working reporter. The sergeant told him that it didn’t matter, Queally said.
“He was less than interested with the fact that I was press,” Queally said. “I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? We really doing this?’ And he said, ‘Yes, this is the policy tonight.’”
Queally had been covering demonstrations in the area, where authorities were clearing a homeless encampment, since about 5 p.m., he said. Hours later, after demonstrators were flashing lights in officers’ faces, the LAPD declared the gathering unlawful.
A homeless encampment that took over a large swath of Echo Park for more than a year appeared on the brink of extinction Thursday as city officials fenced off the area and police prepared to remove the relatively few remaining campers.
Queally said he at one point heard an officer on a speakerphone say something about a media area, but he could not make out the details.
“I didn’t know what they were directing people to do, so I kind of stayed in the crowd,” Queally said. He said he moved farther off to the side, away from the skirmish line, to make his status as an observer clearer, but that “that did not appear to work, obviously.”
After an officer announced that those in the crowd were no longer free to leave, about 20 cops came out of an alleyway and helped surround the crowd from all angles, kettling them, Queally said.
Queally said he was standing with Lexis-Olivier Ray, a reporter with L.A. Taco whom Queally had written a story about earlier this month. The story covered how Ray had been charged with failing to disperse during a gathering he was covering after the Dodger’s World Series victory. Ray was the only person among hundreds in the streets that night to face such a charge.
A reporter who published a video alleging LAPD officers attacked him during World Series victory celebrations was charged with failure to disperse last month.
Now, Queally realized, he was facing a similar fate.
“I wrote a story last week about the problems with the LAPD being overly aggressive with a member of the press that made them look bad. I was standing next to the same person, discussing with him again how this could be a problem again. And then it happened,” Queally said. “That’s a little maddening.”
On Thursday, Ray tweeted video of Queally being arrested, alerting other Times reporters and editors.
Queally said he was about to be placed on a transport bus with other detainees when additional LAPD officials came and released him, telling him to go to a designated media area — with one official suggesting Queally should have been there all along.
“They were questioning why I wasn’t covering the protest from the media pen,” Queally said, “which would have been … impossible by the rules of space and time.”
Kate Cagle, an anchor and reporter with Spectrum News, also was detained in zip ties and later released. She tweeted video of her being walked off by officers.
City Councilman Kevin de León tweeted that Queally and Cagle “should never have been detained.”
Before Queally’s release, Capt. Stacy Spell, an LAPD spokesman, had said that if Queally — an award-winning courts reporter for The Times — hadn’t done “anything out of character” during the protest, then he would likely get “a dust-off” and be released.
“I wouldn’t expect James would do anything out of character, but we have to make sure that that wasn’t the case,” Spell said.
Matt Pearce, president of The Times’ employees’ union, had demanded Queally’s immediate release.
“Journalism is not a crime, @LAPDHQ,” Pearce said in a statement on social media. “Stop making excuses for arresting our journalists. You know who they are, and you know they’re there on behalf of the public.”
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