Detroit police corporal charged with assaulting 3 photojournalists with rubber pellets during protest

Jul 20, 2020 at 4:27 pm
click to enlarge Detroit police deploy tear gas and rubber bullets as protesters flee. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Detroit police deploy tear gas and rubber bullets as protesters flee.

A Detroit police corporal was charged Monday with three counts of felonious assault for allegedly firing rubber pellets at three photojournalists, all of whom were injured, shortly after midnight on May 31.

Corp. Daniel Debono, 31, faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office said Debono, who was wearing riot gear, shot the pellets at MLive’s Nicole Hester, 30, and two independent journalists Seth Herald, 28, and Matthew Hatcher, 29, while they were crossing the street in downtown Detroit.

“They identified themselves as members of the press and had their hands up, asking to cross the street,” the prosecutor’s office says in a statement. “The shooting was unprovoked. At no time did the three complainants do anything to cause the defendant to shoot at them."

Hester suffered injuries to her face, neck, arms, and legs; Herald’s wrist was injured; and Hatcher suffered bruising to his face.

Debono was suspended after the incident.

“The evidence shows that these three journalists were leaving the protest area and that there was almost no one else on the street where they were,” Prosecutor Kym Worthy says in a statement. “They were a threat to no one. There are simply no explicable reasons why the alleged actions of this officer were taken.”

Since protests broke out in late May following the death of George Floyd under police custody in Minneapolis, reporters in Detroit have been arrested, assaulted, and antagonized by overzealous police. Cops also shoved reporters and fired tear gas and flash-bang grenades at journalists who were trying to cover protests.

On June 29, lawmakers introduced resolutions in the state House and Senate criticizing police attacks against journalists in Detroit, saying reporters should be able to report on law enforcement without intimidation or violence.

“Throughout the course of American history, the free press has been under assault by individuals at the highest levels of American government,” the resolution states. “Because of these attacks, the United States is now ranked 45 out of 180 countries listed in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, putting the independence and effectiveness of the press as a tool for public accountability under threat.”

Protesters have complained that they were assaulted by police for violating a curfew imposed by Mayor Mike Duggan.

Police Chief James Craig has repeatedly downplayed the allegations, saying officers have shown restraint and professionalism.

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