Journalists believe DPD officer targeted them with rubber pellet gun

Posted at 7:39 PM, Jun 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 16:14:12-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — "The officer that shot us didn't say anything," said Seth Herald, a freelance photojournalist on assignment for AFP, about a Detroit Police officer he says targeted him and two other journalists with a rubber pellet gun after a protest in downtown Detroit.

"He just raised the gun and pulled the trigger," he said.

Matthew Hatcher said three of the hard, injury-causing pellets hit him in the face. Pellets struck his forehead, nose, and mouth area.

"It happened so quick," said Hatcher, a freelance photojournalist on assignment for Getty Images. "I was in shock. I looked down and saw a bunch of blood."

But it was MLive photographer Nicole Hester who suffered the most injury. Over 12 hard rubber pellets reportedly hit Hester with one pellet narrowly missing one of her eyes, critical to her career as a photographer.

The veteran journalist was in shock and screaming.

It happened just after midnight on May 31 after a protest against police brutality in downtown Detroit. The three were heading back to their car when they said several police officers turned the corner in front of them.

Hatcher and Herald said they all loudly identified themselves as members of the press and their photography equipment was around their necks.

"And it should be made clear, we were the only people around," said Herald. "There were no protesters around."

The trio alerted the officers that they were just heading to their car when, suddenly, one officer began firing rubber pellets.

Herald said he and the other two journalists took cover behind a vehicle.

It's believed that the entire incident can be seen on video from nearby surveillance cameras.

Herald said no officer asked if they were okay, but he asked one of them about the Constitution.

"I said do you believe those constitutional rights and freedom of the press, and he just looked me dead in the eye and said: 'I don't know.'"

One officer reportedly told Hester, "Maybe you'll write the truth someday, lady."

On Monday, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said the officer accused of firing the rubber pellets at the journalists has been suspended pending the outcome of their investigation.

Investigators have not yet presented anything to prosecutors for their review that could result in charges against the officer.

"We took all the measures to stay safe and obey the law, and we were still targeted and punished for that," said Hatcher.

John Hiner, Vice President of Content for MLive, told 7 Action News that he was outraged when he heard what happened to one of their photojournalists and the two others.

"Outraged that they were physically injured in an unprovoked attack, but, second, about the right of journalists to work unharassed in a public arena, at a news scene," said Hiner. "I just hadn't seen something to this degree in my forty years in the news business."

Hiner said they have not received an apology from Detroit Police or assurances that it won't happen again.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has sent a letter to the National Governors Association, urging them to launch immediate investigations into attacks on journalists across the country.

"There must be no impunity for acts of violence by law enforcement against journalists, particularly in cases where journalists were clearly identifiable," wrote CPJ.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is investigating over 400 reports of journalists who have been assaulted, arrested, or somehow prevented from covering recent protests.

"The majority of these reported attacks involve the police," CPJ wrote.

"We should be able to operate within our constitutional rights without being targeted," said Herald. "And if our rights are going to be suppressed as members of the press, then we are no longer working in a democratic country."

Maria Miller says paperwork has been presented to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office's Public Integrity Unit and it is currently being reviewed.