Josie Huang, a reporter for NPR member station LAist 89.3, reached a $700,000 settlement agreement with Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after she was arrested while covering a protest in 2020.
The Board of Supervisors approved the settlement following negotiations with attorneys from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, who represented Huang.
More from Deadline
As she was covering a demonstration on Sept. 12, 2020, Huang was using her phone to record the arrest of one protester when she was tackled to the ground by sheriff’s deputies. She was arrested and jailed overnight on charges of obstructing a police officer. Two deputies tried to step on the phone, but she later recovered it and the video of the incident.
The protests were outside a Lynwood hospital where being treated after being shot.
In May, a judge in Los Angeles Superior Court found that Huang was “factually innocent” of the charge on which she was arrested.
The terms of the settlement agreement require that the sheriff’s department provide deputies with “watch briefings” before patrol assignments when they are likely to come in contact with members of the news media. The department also must issue guidance to employees on the laws regarding journalists’ rights, including to cover demonstrations.
Huang said in a statement, “This settlement upholds the rights of journalists and helps ensure that what happened to me won’t happen to other reporters. My arrest was traumatic, but I hope that some good can still come of this experience. Journalists in Los Angeles County should be able to record police activity in public without fear of unlawful arrest. As the public’s eyes and ears, we must be able to cover protests and document how law enforcement responds to those protests.” She said that she plans to donate a portion of her settlement, according to the Reporters Committee.
Huang began covering the protest after attending a press conference by then-Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. He was defeated by Robert Luna in his race for reelection last year.
In the wake of Huang’s arrest, the sheriff’s office released a statement claiming that she “ignored repeated commands to stay back” and that she “did not identify herself as press and later admitted she did not have proper press credentials on her person.”
But the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute her. On Twitter, Huang had shared her video of the incident, noting that “there was nowhere to back up” after the order was issued, and that she can be heard shouting to the officers, “I’m a reporter. I’m with KPCC.” The video also captured the officers stepping on the phone. Other journalists also captured video of her arrest and she also can be heard identifying herself.
As part of the settlement, the county denied any liability to Huang. The Reporters Committee said that the settlement set a “new benchmark” for journalists arrested or assaulted by law enforcement. Her arrest led to the passage of a state law that protects journalists’ rights when covering protests and demonstrations.
Best of Deadline