Three Lantern journalists clearly display their press credentials to Columbus Police Monday night. They were pepper-sprayed by police after clearly stating that news media are exempt from the citywide curfew. Credit: Adam Cairns/The Columbus Dispatch

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan held a press conference Tuesday addressing the recent protests in Columbus, Ohio, including the pepper-spraying of Lantern reporters Monday night. 

“I know that this past weekend brought incidents from the Columbus Division of Police that did not meet my or the community’s expectations for professionalism and protection,” Ginther said. “We fell short on protecting public safety while allowing peaceful protests.”

Three Lantern reporters who went to cover the protest as it moved past Ohio State’s campus positioned themselves by the Starbucks at the intersection of Lane Avenue and North High Street. 

When police approached them, the three Lantern reporters showed their press credentials and repeatedly identified themselves as members of the news media as the demonstration broke up and spread out throughout the area. The reporters were told to go home because of the curfew even as they explained they were media, and therefore exempt from the curfew. 

Quinlan said that the three Lantern reporters were hard to identify as members of the news media. 

“In this case, an officer certainly didn’t recognize them,” Quinlan said. “They’re trying to identify themselves and use their media credentials. And again, when things are happening really fast and you’re getting pelted with bottles and rocks, we’re dealing with imperfect human beings and imperfect situations. Mistakes will happen. And we’ll take action to correct them and make sure that we do not allow our mistakes to be repeated.”

Two reporters were wearing Lantern hats, hoodies and other clothing items to help identify themselves as Lantern reporters. All three were holding their press passes to identify themselves.

The interaction between Columbus Police and Lantern reporters was caught on video by all three reporters, and a photo from Adam Cairns, a Columbus Dispatch photographer, showed all three of the reporters clearly displaying their press credentials.

The scene in the video showed no bottles or rocks being thrown at police officers who confronted our reporters and traffic moved slowly through the intersection.

“Leave or you’re going to jail,” an officer said as the Lantern reporters explained they were members of the media. “I don’t care, leave, go, leave” were the last words the officer said before multiple officers forcefully pushed at least one of our reporters and proceeded to spray all three. 

Quinlan said that he sent the incident to internal affairs for an investigation, but that if there is more to the story than the video published by The Lantern, the officers deserve a full investigation to hold them accountable or show that they acted appropriately. 

I’ve seen some videos from other angles that give new perspective to it,” Quinlan said. Quinlan did not mention what those angles or perspectives were. 

Quinlan said the curfew was not the issue in this case, the issue was that the reporters were supposedly in the way of the police. 

“When police are creating a police line and directing people to move, reporters are able to stand there and film and do anywhere the public’s allowed to be,” Quinlan said. 

However, police did not tell our reporters to leave because of danger but because it was during curfew.

Quinlan said the media would not be arrested for curfew violations.

In a tweet signed by Ohio State Police Chief Kimberly Spears-McNatt posted, Ohio State Police expressed support for The Lantern and “journalists’ first amendment rights.”

Ginther said in the coming days and weeks there will be “clear” and “tangible” actions in terms of policing and neither he nor Quinlan want to “stifle or suppress” the protests.

“Our goal as a city is to provide the balance between public safety and peaceful protests,” Ginther said.