Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Monday came in defense of his deputies amid widespread scrutiny of the violent arrest of a local public radio reporter in Lynwood.
KPCC’s Josie Huang was arrested late Saturday while covering the shooting of two deputies and a small protest that followed outside the hospital where the officers were being treated.
Videos taken by Huang as well as surrounding photojournalists show multiple deputies pinning her to the ground as she screams, “I’m a reporter… I’m with KPCC.”
On Twitter, the Sheriff’s Department quickly claimed that “she did not identify herself as press and later admitted she did not have proper press credentials on her person.”
Huang, who was wearing a badge during the ordeal, was detained for five hours for obstructing a peace officer. She later provided her account of the incident.
She said she was video-recording one of the protesters’ arrest “when suddenly deputies shout ‘back up.’ Within seconds, I was getting shoved around. There was nowhere to back up.”
Her arrest, widely criticized by journalists who cited the First Amendment, prompted L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to call on the Inspector General to launch a probe.
Capt. Kerry Carter of the the sheriff’s Century station said Sunday that an investigation was underway.
Villanueva, however, defended the arrest.
In an interview on Monday, he said, “Ultimately, we realize OK, she could have done things different. We’ve could’ve probably done things different. But at the heat of the moment, that’s what happened.”
The sheriff said that Huang was wearing a work ID, not “a press pass.”
“She’s yelling ‘KPCC, KPCC,’ but unfortunately, that’s not a household name,” Villanueva said.
Villanueva also said that officers have seen people in protests wearing helmets with the word “press” on them, “try to pass themselves off as journalists.”
He added, “If you’re right up in the business of the deputies and they can they can touch you, that means you’re way too close.”
Asked about Huang’s hourslong detainment, he said, “Once we determined she was a reporter, that determination doesn’t happen instantaneously.”
Huang’s colleague Libby Denkmann challenged the sheriff’s claims.
“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,” Denkmann tweeted.
She also pointed out recordings disputing the department’s allegation that Huang refused to follow orders.
L.A. County Inspector Gen. Max Huntsman, who monitors probes into actions of the Sheriff’s Department, told the L.A. Times that he was surprised that the agency transported and cited Huang even after she was identified as a journalist.
It’s “just the latest in a series of troubling interactions between our reporters and local law enforcement,” said Kristen Muller, KPCC’s chief content officer. “They’ve been tear gassed, shot by a rubber bullet in the throat and had guns pointed at them.”
The radio station has asked for an apology from the Sheriff’s Department.