Sheriff Villanueva defends deputies' arrest of reporter during protest

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is defending the actions of his deputies Saturday night when they took a radio reporter into custody during a small protest outside of St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood.

The incident happened following the ambush shooting of two deputies in Compton. As the two wounded deputies were being treated inside the hospital, a small group of anti-police protesters showed up outside, one shouting "I hope they die."

KPCC reporter Josie Huang was there covering the protest when she was violently thrown to the ground by deputies. It was all caught on her cellphone and by other cameras including Eyewitness News.

In the video she can be heard saying "Help...I'm with KPCC...I'm a reporter."

Villanueva said Huang got too close to the confrontation between the deputies and protesters.

"When she got that close that the deputies could physically grab her, she was way too close. Her place, like any good reporter, is to keep a safe distance and not become part of the story," said Villanueva.

Huang was covering the arrest of one of the protesters and says she complied with the deputies' orders, but was arrested and detained for five hours for obstructing a peace officer.

Huang was wearing her press credential and after seeing the video, tweeted: "It's how I remember it. Like being tossed around in the ocean and then slammed into a rock."

LA County's Inspector General is investigating.

"What she had around her neck was not a press credential. I think it said SCPR, that or KPCC," Villanueva said. "For the average deputy, doesn't mean anything. Unless it had a household name that they recognize, OK that's a reporter. You have two of their colleagues shot in the hospital, you have a crowd of protesters chanting for them to die. I think it's unrealistic to expect them to separate friend from foe and do it in a correct way. If they felt they were justified because she was interfering with a lawful arrest, well then the elements of the crime are met and they took action based on that. Could they have done it better? Everyone could have done better."

Responded Joel Bellman, with the Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists: "It doesn't wash at all for them to say they weren't familiar with the outlet or the credentials. She was in a public space, she was not behind the line. She was not trying to get behind the line. She was not in a disaster area or a crime scene. She was entirely within her rights from everything we could see."

Bellman says the claims made by the sheriff's department are contradicted by the videos and points out that KPCC is a well-known Southern California news organization.

Villanueva says his department will learn from this and that deputies will be on the lookout for press to better safeguard their welfare.
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