For reporter, handcuffs not part of the deal
The last thing I wanted was to become the subject of a story.
But I spent Friday morning answering questions from fellow Connecticut journalists. They wanted to know what happened the night before — when I was detained and nearly charged by police while doing my job.
I’ve worked for the Hearst Connecticut Media as a breaking news reporter since April 2017. My first major story was the fatal police shooting of 15-year-old Jayson Negron in Bridgeport on May 9, 2017. I’ve covered just about every incident related to it since then.
Thursday night, during a protest for Negron on the two-year anniversary of his death, 11 people were arrested — people I’ve come to know over the last two years. I was detained.
I was not officially arrested, according to Bridgeport officials, because I was not charged.
Tell that to the bruises on my wrists from handcuffs.
Earlier that day, between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., I covered the protest and memorial for Negron. Around 8 p.m., things took a turn. There was a confrontation between police and protesters. I grabbed my notebook and rushed to the scene, getting there about 8:20 p.m.
Protesters were back on the street, holding hands in a circle and singing. Soon after, police walked onto Fairfield Avenue and stood together in a line across the two lanes of traffic, facing those gathered for Negron. The road had been shut down to traffic for several hours.
I was facing the direction of the officers when an unknown glass item was thrown toward police. I didn’t see who threw it. All I know is that it came from the direction of where protesters were standing.
Police told them they had five minutes to clear off the street. When time was up, the officers started to walk toward the protesters, shouting “Off the street!”
Standing on the sidewalk, filming — well within my rights — I thought I was about to capture footage of protesters being arrested. Instead, I filmed myself getting handcuffed as I yelled out that I was on a public sidewalk and a member of the press. Later, the officer who handcuffed me said he hadn’t realized I was media.
I was patted down on Fairfield Avenue, put into a police cruiser and taken to booking. I wasn’t brought in right away, since a protester was being processed.
In the minutes I had to myself in the cruiser while the officer stood outside, I managed to get my phone out of my pocket and used the “Hey Siri” feature to call Matt DeRienzo, the vice president of news and digital context for Hearst Connecticut Media. It was nearly 9 p.m. He told me he’d make some calls and figure out what was going on.
In booking, I was taken into an office by a deputy chief and two officers, where I was told I’d be released on a written promise to appear — meaning I would be charged. I was never told what the charge would be. Foolishly, I didn’t ask. I expected it would all be explained later. At that point, I was able to make some supervised phone calls to my editors on speakerphone.
After the calls, the handcuffs were removed.
I was taken to another area of booking, where I was more thoroughly patted down. My belongings were taken and written down on a “prisoner inventory sheet” before being put into a bag and sealed.
A few minutes later, I was all set to be processed. Instead, I was told I was “unarrested” and would be escorted out of booking. It was around 9:30 p.m. I was escorted out and headed right for my newsroom.
Looking back at what happened, I’m frustrated to know that there might not have been anything I could have done to prevent it — other than not showing up and doing my job.
Despite official statements indicating I was wearing “plain clothes,” it’s worth noting that members of the media don’t often wear uniforms.
Thursday night, I was dressed similarly to how I’ve been dressed covering other protests and at crime scenes in Bridgeport and I’ve never been detained before. When I was cuffed, I was wearing the press badge I wear every day I’m at work — with a photo of me, my name and “Hearst Connecticut Media group” on it.
What I know now is I never want to hear about this happening to another reporter.
I hope this incident gets more than just headlines and stories that fade after a few days. I hope it gets more people to talk about freedom of press, and about the need for police to respect everyone’s rights.
Police officers line Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport on Thursday night during a protest marking the two-year anniversary of the fatal Bridgeport police shooting of 15-year-old Jayson Negron. Hearst Connecticut Media reporter Tara O’Neill was detained while covering the event.
A heavy police presence was on hand as activists and friends of Jayson Negron held a vigil near the Walgreens on Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport on Thursday.