Wesley Lowery, a reporter for The Washington Post who has been reporting on the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., was detained Wednesday evening by police in Ferguson.
He and other reporters were working in a McDonald’s in Ferguson when about half a dozen police officers came into the restaurant, Lowery said. Some officers were in regular uniforms, while others were dressed in riot gear and carrying assault weapons.
“It was tense,” Lowery said via telephone from the police station on Wednesday night. “I’ve been afraid several times while reporting on the ground here in Ferguson.”
Lowery has been reporting on the situation in the city outside St. Louis following the death of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by police over the weekend.
Patrons working in the McDonald’s, which reporters had been using as a staging area near demonstrations, were ordered to leave, Lowery said. When the journalist said they were working members of the media, the police told them that was fine, but they couldn’t guarantee their safety.
Police then left and returned a short time later, Lowery said, this time demanding that the reporters leave. Lowery began filming a video on his phone while also using his other hand to pack up his things. An officer objected, Lowery said, but did not press the issue.
Lowery was directed to leave through one door, and then told to go through another, at which point his bag fell off of his shoulder.
“‘Okay, let’s take him,’” one of the officers said, according to Lowery.
Lowery said that at this point, he was slammed against a soda machine and plastic cuffs were placed on his wrists. He was trying to make it clear he was not resisting arrest, but it did not appear the officers believed him. “That made me, frankly, fear for my life,” Lowery said.
Another journalist, Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post, was also in the McDonald’s, arguing with a police officer, and was also handcuffed.
The two reporters were taken outside to a police van, where a man inside the van was complaining that he could not breathe and that the handcuffs were too tight. Lowery and Reilly were then taken to the back of a police car, where they sat alongside a member of the clergy who had also been cuffed, Lowery said.
At this point, they were taken to a holding cell inside the Ferguson police station. News of their arrest quickly began spreading on social media, and the Ferguson police chief was alerted to their arrests by a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. About a half an hour after arriving at the holding cell, they were told that all media members could leave without any charges being filed.
“I knew I was going to be fine,” Lowery said. “But the thing is, so many people here in Ferguson don’t have as many Twitter followers as I have and don’t have Jeff Bezos or whoever to call and bail them out of jail.”
Lowery said he repeatedly asked for the name or badge number of the officers involved and was denied.
In a statement issued Wednesday night, Martin D. Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, said “there was absolutely no justification for his arrest” and said the organization was appalled by the conduct of the officers involved.
Lowery was illegally instructed to stop taking video and followed police instructions, Baron said, after which he was slammed into a machine and handcuffed.
“That behavior was wholly unwarranted and an assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news,” Barton said. “The physical risk to Wesley himself is obvious and outrageous.”
The Ferguson Police Department did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Wednesday night.