A photojournalist alleges police officers “assaulted, battered and shot” him with rubber bullets as he tried to document Black Lives Matter protests in Los Angeles.
Nick Stern, 56, is suing the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) over injuries sustained while he was covering demonstrations in the Fairfax area of the city on 30 May last year.
- April 20, 2021
- February 1, 2021
- September 21, 2020
Stern, an LA-based US citizen originally from the UK, has worked as a photographer in more than 40 countries. His work has been published by CNN, Newsweek, the BBC and British newspapers including the Times, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Daily Telegraph, the Sun and the Mirror.
According to his lawsuit, Stern was “completely compliant, wore his identifiable press badge, and peacefully carried his hefty camera equipment” while covering the 30 May protests.
At around 2pm, he alleges that LAPD officers “repeatedly and aggressively struck [him] in his ribs with a baton in an effort to deter his First Amendment protected activities”.
The lawsuit states: “The LAPD officers did not give any audible order to suggest that Mr Stern was doing anything unlawful nor were any dispersal orders given before they began battering him.”
An hour later, at around 3pm, Stern had “moved away from the group of protestors and used his press credentials to access the sidewalk behind the police line.
“While he initially moved there to seek safety from further LAPD officers’ harassment, Mr Stern realized he was still in danger when he looked through his camera’s viewfinder and saw an LAPD officer… directly pointing a less lethal weapon at [him].”
The photographer says he “used his left hand to pull up his press credentials” to indicate that he was a working journalist but that the officer “did not respond. Rather, with no pretext, [the officer] fired his non-lethal weapon directly at Mr Stern with obvious intent to cause him great bodily harm. The rubber bullet forcefully hit Mr Stern’s upper right thigh.
“Mr Stern was able to capture [the officer] shooting at [him] using his right hand. Mr Stern’s entire body jerked from impact, which caused him to accidentally drop his camera due to the shock.”
Between 3.10-3.20pm, Stern was injured again.
The lawsuit says: “Although Mr Stern was in severe pain, he believed it was his civic duty to remain in the area documenting the protests. However, again, he was assaulted when he was grazed by a rubber bullet near his left knee.”
Around an hour later, between 4.10-4.20pm, Stern witnessed an unnamed female journalist “get shoved to the ground by a LAPD officer for no reason and unprovoked”.
The lawsuit states: “Mr Stern, in fear for his safety due to the continued harassment from the LAPD, proceeded to leave the protests early.
“LAPD intentionally subjected Mr Stern to multiple physical injuries and pain, including multiple contusions on his ribs and thigh, diminished mobility, and capacity to work for days, trauma and emotional distress.
“In their aggressive treatment of Mr Stern, LAPD officers not only violated his Constitutional rights and California Civil Codes, but these unlawful incidents also caused Mr Stern physical pain, trauma, mental harm and emotional distress.”
Stern’s lawsuit – which names the City of Los Angeles, Police Chief Michel Moore and several officers as defendants – is suing for damages. He alleges violations of the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment, as well as claiming assault and battery, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Stern, whose photos from 30 May were published on Mail Online, said: “The Civil Rights movement in this country are at a defining time. It’s vital that journalists are out there documenting it. History shows us the abuses, brutalisations and atrocities that happen when they think the world isn’t looking.”
V. James DeSimone, the civil rights attorney representing Stern, said: “For the Los Angeles Police Department to respond so aggressively towards an identifiable member of the press – at a time when police brutality has never been more in the spotlight and at a protest on the very subject – is unacceptable and directly violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“It is completely unnecessary and unreasonable to shoot less lethal projectiles at peaceful protestors and members of the press. The photos taken by Mr Stern show the story of the LAPD’s deliberate and reckless conduct in targeting people who should have been protected.”
LAPD declined to comment.
In July Press Gazette reported on how The Independent’s US editor Andrew Buncombe was shackled, assaulted and jailed by Seattle Police whilst covering a Black Lives Matter protest.
Photos by Nick Stern