Rafu Wire and Staff Reports
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Sunday that it is investigating its arrest of KPCC/LAist reporter Josie Huang while she was covering the Saturday night ambush shooting of two deputies in Compton and an ensuing protest.
Huang, who was wearing a lanyard with her press credential hanging from her neck, recorded the encounter as she was thrown to the ground by deputies, LAist/KPCC reported.
KPCC described Huang’s video, which continued to film after her phone was knocked from her hand in which she can be heard repeatedly identifying herself as a reporter, repeatedly shouting “KPCC,” saying, “You’re hurting me” and crying out in apparent pain.
KPCC, which was seeking an apology from the department, issued this official statement:
“We offer condolences to the two sheriff deputies who were shot Saturday evening. These are challenging and stressful times for everyone, but Josie Huang was arrested while doing her job. The charges should be dropped.
“Her arrest is the latest in a series of troubling interactions between our reporters and some local law enforcement officers. Journalists provide an essential service, providing fair, accurate and timely journalism and without them, our democracy is at risk.”
A statement from the Society of Professional Journalists strongly condemned the arrest and called for the charges to be dropped. The statement noted, “This is at least the second time that a journalist of color from this news organization was mistreated and injured while reporting on civil protests.”
The national and Los Angeles offices of the Asian American Journalists Association issued this statement: “On Saturday night, Sept. 12, AAJA-LA member and KPCC/LAist reporter Josie Huang was arrested by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies for allegedly ‘obstructing justice.’ Huang was covering the shooting of two deputies in Compton. She was released overnight with visible bruises, KPCC reported.
“We stand in support of our fellow Asian American journalist. Video taken at the scene shows that Huang was forcefully detained by at least five officers. Her arrest serves as a reminder of the risks that journalists face every day while reporting on the front lines during these uncertain times.
“We hold the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department accountable to provide answers for the excessive use of force in the detainment of our colleague. The Los Angeles chapter of AAJA demands an investigation and apology for her arrest.
“We will not idly stand by as the mistreatment of journalists, especially journalists of color, continues by law enforcement.”
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents Lynwood, called for an investigation by L.A. County Inspector General Max Huntsman, and added that the Citizens Oversight Commission must convene a special meeting on the matter.
Huntsman told KPCC that he is opening an investigation into Huang’s arrest.
The controversial sequence of events occurred outside St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, where the two ambushed deputies were being treated for gunshot wounds. Huang had just finished covering a 10 p.m. news conference by Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other department officials.
Sheriff’s officials alleged that the award-winning journalist obstructed justice.
The department initially refused to provide KPCC with details of what happened, but later, Navarro told the station that deputies took Huang into custody on suspicion of obstruction of justice for “interfering with a lawful arrest.” Huang said she was trying to document the arrest of a protester, an account in line with her video from the scene.
Deputy Juanita Navarro of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau also claimed Huang “didn’t have proper credentials,” but she was visibly wearing press credentials around her neck.
A tweet from the sheriff’s department at 2:19 a.m. Sunday includes the now-documented false claim that Huang did not identify herself as a journalist. In a span of less than one minute, Huang told deputies on at least five occasions that she was a reporter and KPCC staffer, as evidenced by the recording.
Video from ABC7 shows at least five deputies pinning her to the pavement, handcuffing her and putting her in a patrol car. Huang’s phone fell to the ground as she was being arrested, and deputies appear to have stepped on it multiple times as it continued to record, as Huang contends.
She was taken to the women’s jail at the Century Regional Detention Center and released about 4 a.m. without bail, but cited for an obstruction charge. A KPCC newsroom executive said Huang had visible bruises and scrapes, a sore shoulder and a blackened eye.
LAist has also called for an apology from the department.
Undersheriff Tim Murakami said he would look into the incident.
After her release, Huang sent out a slew of tweets regarding her incarceration.
“Last night I was arrested and charged with obstructing a peace officer by @LASDHQ after videotaping their interactions with protesters in Lynwood. This is what I remember and what I have on video and audio,” Huang tweeted.
“After the press conference, I went to my car in the hospital garage and was tying things up on the phone with 1 of my editors. It was almost 11 pm. Then I heard loud shouting outside the garage, so I went to check things out. I had on a lanyard around my neck with a press ID. A handful of men were on the sidewalk. A couple were carrying large flags. Others were filming deputies and taunting them. One deputy pointed a weapon at the protesters. I started filming on my phone, standing off to the side. No one took issue with me being there.
“I texted video to editors. When I looked up from my phone, the small group of men had dispersed and deputies were following at least 1 man down the street. I walked behind, using the zoom on my camera so I could keep physical distance. A couple deputies looked at me as I filmed,” she continued.
“I saw a commotion ahead of me. Deputies rushed one man and chased another. I was filming an arrest when suddenly deputies shout ‘Back up.’ Within seconds, I was getting shoved around. There was nowhere to back up.
“Somehow I was able to start a new video right away. You see my phone clatter to the ground and I start shouting ‘I’m a reporter. I’m with KPCC.’ I scream for help from the TV reporters I know are around the corner doing their 11 p.m. live hits.
“After my phone drops, it keeps recording and it captures two deputies damaging my phone by kicking and stepping on it. I can hear myself in the background shouting, ‘You guys are hurting me’ and ‘Stop it.’ I was put in the back of a patrol car — the start of some 5 hours in LASD custody that began with the deputy refusing to uncuff me so I could put my face covering back on, telling me I just had a ‘scrape’ when I was bleeding from my foot and not giving me back a shoe,” she tweeted.
Libby Denkmann, a reporter who works with Huang, tweeted about the incident on Sept. 14: “Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva lied about my KPCC/LAist colleague Josie Huang on KTLA this morning:
“Villanueva claims she refused deputy orders. Not true. Video evidence contradicts this. She’s backing up and is tackled immediately.
“He says deputies ‘were not aware she was a working reporter.’ Josie yelled, ‘I’m a reporter’ and wore her KPCC station ID.
“(Sheriff’s Dept. cannot require their specific credentials to report in public places. Police don’t bestow the right to journalism, the 1st Amendment does.)
“Villanueva continues to falsely claim Josie ‘runs up to deputies,’ which is clearly not true, shown on video evidence from her phone.
“Let’s talk about video evidence! Two deputies were also caught stomping on and trying to crush her phone *as it recorded* to destroy evidence.
“Villanueva makes another bizarre accusation: ‘We have a problem…particularly these protests. We have fake press credentials…they stencil the word PRESS on their helmet.’
“Does he mean freelancers? Reporters for small outlets that he doesn’t deem ‘working press’? No telling.
“A twofer: Villanueva impugns Josie’s professionalism while accusing her of something contradicted on video: ‘I know no good reporter is going to get right up on the shoulder of a deputy trying to arrest somebody. That’s inappropriate. That’s going from journalism to activism.’
“This makes me sick. I’m the granddaughter of a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed in the line of duty. I know the pain caused by Saturday’s senseless attack.
“But this sheriff is lying about my colleague and intimidating other reporters from fulfilling our constitutionally protected job.
“When we let a law enforcement agency do this to the watchdogs, who is left to protect everyone else?
“After his PIO (Public Information Office) team put out lies on social media, the sheriff is continuing a systematic misinformation campaign about Josie and what happened Saturday night. This has to stop.
“Thank you to Mark Ridley-Thomas for calling for an investigation.
“Others, please: Watch and listen to what happened to Josie. It’s on tape. Don’t dismiss what you’re seeing with your own eyes. Every day, truth and accountability are being subverted.”
Huang’s duties include covering local Asian American communities. Among other topics, she has done stories on the Day of Remembrance observance in Little Tokyo and the sale of the Keiro facilities to Pacifica.