LOS ANGELES (CN) — Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey declined Thursday to criminally charge a journalist who was violently arrested while she was filming an arrest, saying in a memo the reporter was not interfering with the officers’ actions and clearly identified herself as press.
KPCC reporter Josie Huang was reporting on a Sep. 13 protest in South LA against police violence and on the apparent ambush shooting of two LA County Sheriff’s Department officers the day prior.
Just after midnight, while Huang was filming LASD officers arresting a protester outside a hospital in Lynwood, a police officer not part of the arrest approached Huang and asked her to move away from the scene.
Huang recorded the next sequence of events on her cell phone and, according to the video, she backed up and identified herself as press.
But the officer immediately grabbed Huang’s arm and violently pulled her to the ground before she was arrested by LASD deputies.
In the cell phone video and in videos captured by other news media outlets, Huang is seen lying face down on the ground, clearly identifying herself as a reporter and yelling out the call letters KPCC.
The arrest drew widespread condemnation from LA County elected officials and news media organizations, including NPR and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The sheriff’s department later refuted Huang’s claims that she identified herself as a credentialed member of the press, saying she only carried her KPCC work ID around her neck when she was arrested.
In a charge evaluation report released Thursday by the district attorney’s office, prosecutors said at least one officer heard Huang identify herself as a journalist because they told her, “Do what you’re told if you’re a reporter.”
In declining to pursue LASD’s criminal charges, prosecutors affirmed Huang’s assertion that she was not interfering with law enforcement that night.
“It does not appear that she was intentionally attempting to interfere with the deputies, but merely trying to record the occurrence,” the DA’s office report said. “While she was in close proximity to deputies making an arrest, and while deputies had reason to ask her to back up, Ms. Huang was not given the opportunity to comply with their demand.”
LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the DA’s decision, but an LASD spokesperson spoke about the matter.
“Unfortunately, Ms. Huang inserted herself too close to the highly charged situation as an arrest was being made. This case was investigated and all the elements of the crime were present. The case was presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and they ultimately declined to prosecute. This is not uncommon, as they must weigh many factors into their decision. An internal investigation was opened in this matter and appropriate administrative action will be taken. We are unable to provide further comment at this time, due to personnel privacy laws.”
Villanueva has defended Huang’s arrest, adding another layer to his feud with LA County leaders who say he should resign for continuously hampering efforts to infuse LASD with transparency and accountability.
In a press conference, the sheriff said Huang failed to identify herself as a reporter, a claim that was disproven by video evidence of the arrest, and that she crossed from journalism to “activism” when she recorded officers arresting a protester.
Earlier this month, LA County Inspector General Max Huntsman told an LASD watchdog group the department is impeding his investigation into Huang’s arrest and other issues including recent fatal police shootings.