Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies arrested KPCC/LAist Correspondent Josie Huang late Saturday while she was covering the ambush shooting of two deputies in Compton.
Even as she was being thrown to the ground, Huang — who was wearing a lanyard with her press credential hanging from her neck — was recording the encounter. In video that continued to film after her phone was knocked from her hand, Huang can be heard repeatedly identifying herself as a reporter and shouting “KPCC” several times. You also can hear Huang yelling: “You’re hurting me” and crying out in pain.
The incident occurred outside St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, where the two 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 allege that Huang, an award-winning journalist, obstructed justice. The department initially refused to provide details of what happened, but later, Deputy Juanita Navarro of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau confirmed that deputies took Huang into custody on suspicion of obstruction of justice by “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.
Navarro also said Huang “didn’t have proper credentials,” but she was clearly wearing press credentials around her neck. A tweet from the Sheriff’s Department at 2:19 a.m. Sunday includes a false claim that Huang did not identify herself as a journalist. Huang told deputies at least five separate times that she was a reporter and KPCC staffer in less than a minute, according to the recording.
Video from ABC7 shows at least five deputies pinning Huang to the pavement, handcuffing her, and placing 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.
Huang was taken to the women’s jail at the Century Regional Detention Center. She was released at about 4 a.m. without bail, but was cited for an obstruction charge. A KPCC newsroom executive said Huang had visible bruises and scrapes, a sore shoulder and a blackened eye. LAist and KPCC called for an apology from the department. Undersheriff Tim Murakami said he would look into the incident.
One protester was arrested on the same obstruction charge as Huang.
KPCC 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.”
We must continue pray for the two ambushed sheriff deputies and their families.🙏🏾 We must also require that the Inspector General launch an immediate investigation into the arrest of @josie_huang. The Citizens Oversight Commission must convene a special meeting on this matter.
— Mark Ridley-Thomas (@mridleythomas) September 13, 2020
L.A. County Inspector General Max Huntsman told KPCC’s Frank Stoltze that he is opening an investigation into Huang’s arrest. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents Lynwood, called for an investigation by Huntsman and added that “The Citizens Oversight Commission must convene a special meeting on this matter.”
The incident sparked outrage among fellow journalists, who called her arrest a violation of the First Amendment.
— Robin Abcarian (@AbcarianLAT) September 13, 2020
If you don’t know @josie_huang‘s work, she’s been covering underreported Los Angeles Asian American stories for years and reporting from all sides of the protests throughout the summer
She’s an incredibly valuable journalist who was wearing her credentials and doing her job https://t.co/9rX58EYW65
— sean typos miura (@seanmiura) September 13, 2020
NPR is appalled by the arrest of Josie Huang, a KPCC public radio reporter, who was performing her job last night—gathering facts to inform the American public. The rights of journalists are protected by the First Amendment, and essential to an informed public and our Democracy.
— nprextra (@NPRextra) September 13, 2020
The arrest comes amid rising tensions between law enforcement and journalists in Los Angeles – especially during protests. In May, Long Beach Police fired a rubber bullet that hit LAist and KPCC Correspondent Adolfo Guzman Lopez in the neck. Journalists have been injured across the country covering protests this summer.
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.”
Huang, who has covered beats from emerging communities to housing, is one of KPCC’s most identifiable voices. In 2019, Huang wrote an acclaimed story documenting the fight over homeless housing in Koreatown.
She wrote at 4:50 a.m. Sunday she was on her way home and would share more about her experiences.