The Los Angeles County district attorney has opted not to prosecute a misdemeanor charge against a reporter who was arrested while covering an anti-police demonstration earlier this month, citing insufficient evidence that she was improperly credentialed or had interfered with the arrest of a protester.
Josie Huang, an award-winning journalist with NPR affiliate KPCC and LAist, was tackled to the ground by five sheriff's deputies on Sept. 12 and arrested on a charge of obstructing justice. But a spokesperson for prosecutors told BuzzFeed News the case was declined on Thursday due to "insufficient evidence."
"I am gratified that the district attorney’s office has reviewed the evidence, including my video recordings of law enforcement activity, and reached the conclusion that it did," Huang said in a statement, adding that she is seeking a finding of “factual innocence” in an effort to "wipe this unlawful arrest from my record."
"More than ever, I am grateful for the First Amendment, which entitles all Americans — not just journalists — to the rights of free speech and assembly," she said.
Videos showed that Huang had repeatedly identified herself as a reporter with KPCC and had her press credentials around her neck at the time of her arrest, contradicting the sheriff's allegations.
Huang, who was bruised and cut during her arrest, spent five hours in a county jail before she was released.
The arrests took place near the St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, where two sheriff's deputies were being treated for multiple gunshot wounds after they were shot in an ambush attack.
Huang was filming a handful of men who had gathered outside the hospital making anti-police statements.
Huang said she followed deputies who were chasing one of the demonstrators after the small group dispersed. She began recording the protester's arrest when the deputies shouted at her to “back up," she said.
"Within seconds, I was getting shoved around," she tweeted. "There was nowhere to back up."
At the time of her arrest, the sheriff's department tweeted that Huang had "ignored repeated commands to stay back" while deputies were making the arrest.
The LASD alleged that Huang "did not identify herself as press and later admitted she did not have proper press credentials on her person."
However, cellphone videos taken by Huang and another media outlet showed that she repeatedly and loudly identified herself as a KPCC reporter and that she had a press badge around her neck.
In a charge evaluation worksheet provided to BuzzFeed News, a prosecutor notes that video clearly shows her identifying herself as a reporter through her words and her lanyard.
"It also appears that at least one deputy heard her say she was a reporter," the prosecutor wrote, "because he can be heard saying, 'Do what you're told if you're a reporter.'"
The prosecutor added, "It does not appear that she was intentionally attempting to interfere with deputies, but merely trying to record the occurrence."
In a statement, Herb Scannell, president and CEO of Southern California Public Radio, said they were pleased with the district attorney's decision.
"Unfortunately, journalists are increasingly under attack," he added. "They play a critical role in our democracy and their safety must be protected at all times."
Huang's arrest was widely condemned by journalists, advocates, and media outlets, including NPR, which called for the charges to be dropped and for the LA County Sheriff's Department to apologize.
"Her arrest is the latest in a series of troubling interactions between our reporters and some local law enforcement officers," KPCC said in a statement.
"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," NPR added.
"We hold the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department accountable to provide answers for the excessive use of force in the detainment of our colleague," the Asian American Journalists Association said in a statement. "The Los Angeles chapter of AAJA demands an investigation and apology for her arrest."
After her arrest sparked outrage, the LA County's Office of Inspector General, which independently investigates actions by the sheriff's department, launched a probe into Huang's arrest.
"That’s what surprises me the most is that once she was identified as a reporter that they transported her, that they cited her,” LA County Inspector General Max Huntsman told the Los Angeles Times.
Despite videos contradicting the sheriff department's allegations, Sheriff Alex Villanueva refused to apologize for Huang's arrest and accused her of "crossing the line from journalism to activism" by coming too close to the scene of the protester's arrest.
"In the heat of the moment, when these protesters are calling or chanting for the death of the deputies in the emergency room, she picked the worst time possible to try to get an up-close of the deputies making an arrest," Villanueva said during a news conference on Monday. "And that's on her."
He also accused her of not being "good at identifying" herself and suggested that his deputies may not have arrested her had she been from a bigger media outlet like CNN or Fox.
"Some journalists are not that good at identifying themselves or carrying the proper credentials," Villanueva said. "For example, if she yelled out 'CNN' or 'Fox' ... people recognize that. But saying 'KPCC' over and over again..."