The Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists urged the City Attorney’s Office Friday to drop a case against a freelance journalist who accused police of assaulting him while he was covering a downtown celebration of the Dodgers’ World Series win.
Lexis-Olivier Ray was reporting for the news site L.A. Taco on Oct. 27 when revelers took to the streets of downtown following the Dodger victory. The LAPD ultimately declared an unlawful assembly and ordered the crowd to disperse.
“Despite identifying himself as a working journalist, Ray was knocked to the ground by police and injured, with his equipment damaged. He resumed reporting that evening. His employer, the news site L.A. Taco, subsequently filed a complaint with the LAPD,” according to a statement from SPJ/LA.
Ray posted a video on Twitter that shows officers appearing to beat him with batons and knock him to the ground.
“A group of LAPD officers just broke my camera mic, tackled me to the ground and beat me with their batons, after I identified myself as a journalist multiple times,” Ray said on Twitter after the confrontation.
According to SPJ/LA, Ray was summoned by the city attorney for a hearing after the LAPD pursued charges against him for failure to disperse, despite Ray never being arrested at the protest. He was told at the hearing that he wouldn’t be prosecuted immediately, but the case would remain open and prosecution would depend on his conduct through October 2021, a year after the incident.
The City Attorney’s Office declined to comment to City News Service, and the Los Angeles Police Department released a statement saying, “Although he was not charged or arrested at the time of the incident, officers completed an Investigative Report for Failing to Disperse listing him as a suspect. Upon completion of the report, it was submitted to the City Attorney’s Office for filing consideration.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the City Attorney’s Office reviewed 19 cases from the Los Angeles Police Department and California Highway Patrol, and the office declined to file charges against 16 of them. Ray was the only person either agency sought charges against for failing to disperse, the newspaper reported.
SPJ/LA urged City Attorney Mike Feuer to drop the case, and also called on Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore to explain why charges were sought.
“The city attorney’s warning will unavoidably have a chilling effect on future reporting by Ray, a Black journalist who aggressively covers police misconduct and other community issues,” according to SPJ/LA.
The organization also urged the Los Angeles City Council to address the case.
“The press is the only profession that is specifically singled out for constitutional protection in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights,” according to SPJ/LA. “Those in law enforcement who endanger or intimidate journalists must be held accountable.”