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Two Tampa Bay Times reporters placed in zip ties while covering protests

A photo shows one reporter holding up her media credentials to Tampa police before she was detained. Both reporters were released.
Reporter Divya Kumar was detained by Tampa police while covering demonstrations in downtown. She was released after 10 to 15 minutes.
Reporter Divya Kumar was detained by Tampa police while covering demonstrations in downtown. She was released after 10 to 15 minutes. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jun. 3, 2020
Updated Jun. 5, 2020

Two reporters for the Tampa Bay Times were placed in zip ties and briefly detained during late-night demonstrations, one in St. Peterburg and one in Tampa.

Reporter Divya Kumar was detained as Tampa police closed in on demonstrators early Wednesday after declaring an unlawful assembly near Joe Chillura Courthouse Square downtown. Kumar was knocked down by an officer on a bicycle, handcuffed, then restrained by plastic zip ties for 10 to 15 minutes, she said. Sixty-eight people were arrested there, most on charges of unlawful assembly.

Related: Press pass offering little defense for journalists caught in the U.S. fray

Images taken by a Times photojournalist show Kumar before she was detained, holding up her media credentials in front of a line of Tampa police officers on bicycles.

In St. Petersburg, reporter Jay Cridlin was detained Tuesday night when St. Petersburg police and Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies closed in on demonstrators after they were told to leave police headquarters on First Avenue N. A number of people were arrested and Cridlin was briefly detained, his hands placed in zip ties.

Cridlin, 40, said St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway and Mayor Rick Kriseman called him later Wednesday morning and apologized. Cridlin was detained by a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri also apologized, and said he was looking into the incident.

“You guys have a role. This has nothing to do with the media,” Gualtieri said. “It was clearly accidental, and we just need to avoid it.”

Deputies have been working with St. Petersburg police during the protests. Holloway spotted Cridlin and had a deputy free him, said police spokesman Yolanda Fernandez.

“He realized he was a member of the press right away and asked him to please release him,” Fernandez said.

Related: Nighttime clashes end a day of otherwise peaceful protests in Tampa Bay

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and police Chief Brian Dugan held a news conference Wednesday to address the protests. Dugan defended his officers’ actions in detaining Kumar. The police chief emphasized that she was detained, not arrested, and said Times journalists got too close to problem areas.

“I personally told those Times people that they needed to get out of there," Dugan said.

Castor said police had to move on protesters because her officers “were having bricks thrown at them.” Later that day, the mayor called Kumar to apologize.

Chief assistant city attorney Kirby Rainsberger also apologized to the Times on behalf of the city of Tampa.

Times reporter Divya Kumar, wearing a white mask, shows her media credentials before she was detained by Tampa police. Kumar was placed in Zip Ties as police moved in on demonstrators after declaring an unlawful assembly.
Times reporter Divya Kumar, wearing a white mask, shows her media credentials before she was detained by Tampa police. Kumar was placed in Zip Ties as police moved in on demonstrators after declaring an unlawful assembly. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

He said officers’ treatment of Kumar was “an overreaction.” He added that the city was responding by reiterating the rights of the press in officer roll calls and in emails to department personnel.

“I don’t know what I could have done differently,” said Kumar, 27. “I identified myself as a journalist and tried to get out of there safely.”

She said she heard police declare the gathering an unlawful assembly via loudspeaker but no one spoke to her directly. She felt a responsibility to stay with the crowd as it dispersed and was trying to follow the directions of officers on bicycles, she said, when one knocked her to the ground. She was handcuffed at first, but that was replaced by a zip tie after she identified herself as a reporter.

The officer told her he didn’t care, Kumar said.

Kumar said she doesn’t want her detention to distract from the substance of the demonstrations, “from the story that needs to be covered. At the same time, journalists need to be there covering it.”

Times Executive Editor Mark Katches said this Wednesday:

“We strongly object to these actions taken last night by law enforcement in St. Petersburg and Tampa. Journalists need to be able to do our jobs and report the news without being harassed, detained, intimidated or harmed by law enforcement.”

Tampa’s apology came after Katches wrote to Castor and Dugan, asking for the chance to speak with them “so that we can avoid anything like this going forward.” He acknowledged “the tremendous stress and pressure you face and that our police officers face during tense protests."

Across the country, journalists have been caught up in the clashes involving police and demonstrators over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died while in police custody May 25 in Minneapolis.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, an online project sponsored in part by the U.S. Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists, had documented more than 180 separate incidents since protests erupted late last week in Minneapolis then spread to urban centers across the country.

One example is the dramatic live-on-TV arrest of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew on the streets of Minneapolis, an incident that later prompted an apology and defense of the importance of the press from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.

Times staff writer Kathryn Varn contributed to this report, which uses information from the Associated Press.