The Independent’s US correspondent has revealed how he was assaulted, shackled and jailed in Seattle for doing his job as a journalist.
Andrew Buncombe could face up to a year in jail after he was charged with failing to disperse. He has developed Covid-19 symptoms since being held in a crowded cell but a test for the disease has come back negative.
Buncombe was covering a Black Lives Matter protest in Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park when he was seized by police on 1 July.
Writing about the experience he said: “Five minutes after having arrived the park, dispatched by my editors to cover the police operation and speak to protesters, I was arrested at its northern edge by an officer standing on a slight rise and behind black and yellow tape that read ‘Police line – Do not cros’. I was the other side of that tape. I did not cross it. At no point did I try to cross the police line.”
After declining to leave the park when asked to by an officer Buncombe says he was grabbed by police and had his hands pinned behind his back.
He was then placed in handcuffs and ankle shackles and put in a police van.
His arrest appears to be in breach of the Seattle penal code which states: “No such order shall apply to a news reporter or other person observing or recording the events on behalf of the public press or other news media, unless he is physically obstructing lawful efforts by such officer to disperse the group.”
Buncombe said the handcuffs and leg irons were connected with a piece of chain tied closely around his stomach which constricted his breathing.
He said: “It felt obscene and preposterous to have to inform the officers I could not properly breathe, that phrase having become weighted with such power and resonance during the Black Lives Matter movement, echoing the gut-wrenching final words of George Floyd. But that was the situation. I could not properly breathe.
“One of the officers responded: ‘If you can speak, you can breathe.’”
Taken to Seattle’s jail, Buncombe was put in a red prison uniform and forced to share a cell with ten others where there was no washing facilities.
He said: “The toilet was filthy, the room stank, one protester became ill and vomited in it. I requested some soap, and asked one of the officers what was the capacity for the cell.”
At one stage he was attacked by a male guard who “yanked hard on the collar of my jacket, pulling it with sufficient force into my throat to make me gasp”.
He was finally released after several hours in jail and has since become increasingly ill, suffering from headaches, a cough and exhaustion. A Covid-19 test has, however, come back negative.
Buncombe is waiting to be informed of his court date