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AP photographer’s last pre-arrest shot is a stunner

AP/Matt Rourke
The last image found in Matt Rourke’s camera before he was hauled off. (Click here for larger photo.)

Matt Rourke isn’t a lefty media star like Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. The AP photographer’s Monday arrest didn’t provoke paroxysms of online outrage; there was no sympathy-generating video as in Goodman’s case. Unmobbed by interview requests, Rourke quietly returned to work Tuesday after being let out of jail at 2:30 that morning.

But Rourke’s story is in some ways more outrageous and more amazing than Goodman’s seizure. It is also more typical of the dangers working journalists — particularly photojournalists — face covering demonstrations.

The story culminates with the stunning photo above — bigger version here — a testimony to Rourke’s resourcefulness and tenacity. It was the last image found in his camera before he was hauled off. It was taken after someone jumped him from the rear.

“I was rolling around, found my camera and was shooting from my back,” says Rourke.

It’s hard not to look at the photo and see why police might’ve wanted to end Rourke’s day. The 32-year-old Philadelphia-based photographer — under AP orders to recount facts, not offer opinions — says this: “I don’t know who or what took me down from behind.”

Rourke says he was trying to stay abreast of a protest crowd when the police surrounded the group in a parking lot. “I was in a passive posture, and the officers in front were appearing to let me go” just before the takedown, he notes.

Rourke was bedecked with press identification: He wore his credentials, had an AP hat clipped to his chest (because he was wearing a gas mask) and had two big cameras marked “press.” The get-up, which included a standard photographer’s vest, may have had an unexpected vulnerability: It’s possible none of the identification was visible from behind.

Police also ignored Goodman’s credentials, but in the video, she can be seen disobeying police instructions as she tries to break through a line and reach bloodied colleagues. (You can understand Goodman’s justification if you look at this less-viewed clip shot by her producer, Nicole Salazar, just before Salazar was arrested.)

Rourke says police gave him no instructions — no command to stop shooting, no orders to leave the area. “It was sheer madness,” he states.

Rourke wound up being zip-tied anyway, just like Goodman.

“Every time I spoke to an officer, I said I was an AP photographer with credentials,” he recounts. “I couldn’t tell where the uniforms were from, they were covered by [riot gear] turtle suits. I asked if I could give my coworkers my equipment. They agreed to it. When they flexicuffed me, they had to disconnect my camera.”

Rourke told the National Press Photographers Association that a New York Times has a photo of him, on his back, flashing his credential to police. (I’m trying to get the photo.)

Rourke also had the sense officers — whom records indicate were from Maplewood — regretted the bust almost immediately.

“I heard an officer say, ‘What are we supposed to do with him?’ And the arresting officer say, ‘What do we charge him with?’ It seemed they knew I was press but no one knew what to do. I was getting passed around but no one was willing to do anything.”

The arrest report indicates Rourke was charged with “Riot — gross misdemeanor.”

Rourke’s boss, AP Director of Photography Santiago Lyon, isn’t on opinion lockdown. Via email, he states, “It is unacceptable for a working, credentialed photojournalist to be detained in the manner that AP Photographer Matt Rourke was on Sept 1, 2008 in St. Paul. Upon ascertaining his status as a journalist, police should have released him immediately.”

Rourke says he was freed because AP “put the whole weight of the company behind me.” He was aided by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which had worked with authorities weeks in advance to establish procedures to free credentialed journalists. (Goodman’s less-prominent team, which did not contact RCFP according to Executive Director Lucy Dalglish, still faces felony riot charges.)

Dalglish says it’s no surprise a guy like Rourke was pinched. “We knew, when we set this up, that photographers in particular are likelier to get picked. It’s their job to get in there, get photographs, but if they back up and step on a cop’s big toe, they’re going to get arrested.”

Rourke, in fact, took a shot of another photographer later arrested for felony riot; you can see that image here.

Rourke, who says he has a scraped elbow and knee as battle scars, says he has never experienced anything like Monday’s assault. “I’ve been detained before, but never forceably. Katrina was as bad as it got up until [Monday]. They’d just kind of temporarily detain you, post-9/11 stuff, asking you why you were photographing an oil refinery, taking your license and letting you go back to work quickly.”

In the end, authorities recognized their errors. Phil Carruthers, the Ramsey County attorney’s office division director, told AP that no charges against Rourke were anticipated.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by B Maginnis on 09/03/2008 - 03:08 pm.

    Excellent police work, very good technique shown here.

    If you’re a punk “protester”, you deserve what the cops have in store for you.

    If you’re some kind of “fanboy” photographer, well, you might get mistaken for a punk. Too bad.

    Stop paying attention in the “media” to the punks and the attendant sympathizers like photo-boy.

    They have but one goal: protest the very protectors of the freedom that allows them to bellyache.

  2. Submitted by Pat Backen on 09/03/2008 - 01:25 pm.

    While Amy Goodman is slow to respond to the police, the officer over-reacted. Had he just slowed down for a minute and answered her question – she was clearly a member of the press – the whole issue would have went away.

    The fact that they are just arresting everyone and then just throwing charges around – felony riot for the Democracy Now producer? For what, getting pushed over by a cop? – raises very serious questions about civil liberties and basic freedoms this country is supposed to be all about.

    The heavy handed manner in which the police are reacting is causing more problems than it is solving!

  3. Submitted by Sarah Burt on 09/03/2008 - 01:04 pm.

    I bet Democracy Now! will do a story about this and…will probably want to interview him, too. 🙂

  4. Submitted by Gary Myrick on 09/03/2008 - 12:02 pm.

    Amy Goodman and her colleagues had the SAME, valid press credentials as Matt Rourke or anyone else. Further, the statement that “she can be seen disobeying police instructions as she tries to break through a line” is a flat-out LIE, as anyone who watches the video can plainly see.

    Watch it for yourselves, folks. Here is the link:

  5. Submitted by Gary Myrick on 09/03/2008 - 12:13 pm.

    By the way, it’s called “Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press” and they backed Goodman and her crew as solidly as they did Rourke, unlike certain “righty” hacks at the MinnPost.

  6. Submitted by David Brauer on 09/03/2008 - 12:33 pm.

    Gary, I re-watched the Goodman video and it seems to me that she clearly disobeys police instructions to leave the area. Even if police weren’t justified, any journalist can be expected to be arrested if they decide they must contradict those orders.

    Even RCFP acknowledges this: see

    (Thanks for the name correction; will fix.)

    Just because we disagree on how to interpret Goodman’s video doesn’t make me a liar, and there are plenty of my regular readers who will find out with astonishment that I am now a right winger. I could just be a journalist who views this particular situation differently than you. Don’t blame ideology!

  7. Submitted by bryan kennedy on 09/03/2008 - 12:35 pm.

    I am 90% certain I saw this guy earlier in the day. At the time I thought he seemed a little over prepared and silly looking with his gas mask and tons of stuff making it very obvious he was an AP photog….well, I guess not. Sad to hear he got futzed with by the cops. I live in the neighborhood around the RNC and can say that the cops are seriously over reacting. I’m tired of being looked at like a criminal for walking around the neighborhood. Tired of the riot police and helicopters.

  8. Submitted by Bob Tyson on 09/03/2008 - 12:59 pm.

    Yes, stories like Rourke’s and Goodman’s are very dramatic and also remain troubling. From a distance (see sig below) what comes forth from this is a remarkable atmosphere if greatly heightened excitement and group-think, on the part of the police. That is, even giving large leeway, there is not much to persuade me, watching the news and looking at photographs and accounts, that the demonstrators were much inciting the police. Yes, there were some objects thrown and the violence against property. It also appears the police tried in many cases to stay at a certain remove.

    But once the dam broke, brother watch out. What I do not understand is why there was any need for the rough treatment. Again the phtographs show kids in sandals and t-shirts with their hand on their heads sitting on grass in Harriet Park, for example. And so far, for me, ONLY journalists being manhandled, pushed down, and restrained.

    It’s not a good image, for St. Paul or for anyone else. I must add that the hand-wringings by the sheriff, ‘hoping’ there would be ‘no more violence’ have a certain crocodile-tear quality to them. The Brits speak of the stiff upper lip. Where is it? If the authorities want to decry the violence, as they call it, mighn’t they also explain fully and openly why and whom and for how long they are detaining people?

    And send out crisply-uniformed, un-armed officers amid the military-costumed, to perform actual arrests, starting with verbal instructions to prospective arrestees who pose no threat?

    It is hard to avoid the sarcasm: but I suppose this is not England, nor Europe. It’s the U S of A.

    Bob Tyson
    Formerly of Jax Building
    253 E Fourth Street
    St. Paul

    Via Borgosesia 58

  9. Submitted by Ron Salzberger on 09/03/2008 - 07:16 pm.

    Brauer writes, “Matt Rourke isn’t a lefty media star like Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. The AP photographer’s Monday arrest didn’t provoke paroxysms of online outrage; there was no sympathy-generating video as in Goodman’s case. Unmobbed by interview requests, Rourke quietly returned to work Tuesday after being let out of jail at 2:30 that morning.”

    So much for solidarity among journalists. Was there some competition for ‘most victimized journalist’ that we were unaware of? Rourke’s treatment was outrageous, and so was the treatment of the staffers from Democracy Now, two thirds of whom were not “lefty media stars.” Praising Rourke simply did not require Brauer’s sneer at Goodman.

  10. Submitted by Gregory Stricherz on 09/03/2008 - 03:53 pm.


    On the web:

    *Call to Action on Behalf of DN! Journalists Facing Charges for
    Reporting on the Republican National Convention*

    Today it is critical that you make your voice heard in the Ramsey
    County Attorney and St. Paul City Attorney offices. Demand that they
    drop all pending and current charges against journalists arrested while
    reporting on protests outside the Republican National Conventions.

    The Ramsey County Attorney’s office is in the process of deciding
    whether or not to press felony P.C. (probable cause) riot charges
    against Democracy Now! Producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole
    Salazar. Please contact Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner by all
    means possible to demand that her office not press charges against
    Kouddous and Salazar.

    Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner (cc:

    Susan Gaertner for Governor (cc:
    (612) 978-8625
    (612) 804-6156

    The St. Paul City Attorney’s office has already charged Amy Goodman with
    misdemeanor obstruction of a legal process and interference with a peace
    officer. Contact St. Paul City Attorney John Choi by all means possible
    to demand that the charges against Goodman be dropped immediately.

    St. Paul City Attorney John Choi (cc:
    (651) 266-8710

    Goodman was arrested while questioning police about the unlawful
    detention of Kouddous and Salazar, who were arrested while they carried
    out their journalistic duties in covering street demonstrations at the
    Republican National Convention.

    During the demonstration in which the Democracy Now! team was arrested,
    law enforcement officers used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion
    grenades and excessive force against protesters and journalists. Several
    dozen demonstrators were also arrested during this action, as was a
    photographer for the Associated Press.

    Be sure to cc: on all emails so that our
    team can deliver print outs of your messages to the St. Paul City
    Attorney and Ramsey County Attorney offices.


    Amy Goodman Arrest

    Nicole Salazar Arrest

    Media coverage of RNC arrests

    Free Press campaign
    = = = = = = = = =
    Democracy Now! airs on over 650 radio and TV stations, including
    Pacifica, NPR, community, and college radio stations; on public
    access, PBS, satellite TV stations (DISH network: Free Speech TV
    ch. 9415 and Link TV ch. 9410; DIRECTV: Link TV ch. 375); on the World
    Radio Network’s European Service and on the Community Broacasting
    Association of Australia service; as a “podcast”, automatically
    downloaded to your computer or portable audio player; and streams live
    M-F at 8am EST at

  11. Submitted by Tom Poe on 09/04/2008 - 09:53 am.

    #10 Ron: Brauer is a wannabe corporate media jerk. I’m sure AP gave him permission to publish the photo. Of course, there would be written permission, along with any little details, like final editing of the article would lie with AP. Once final censorship is granted, article could go forward. You know, standard operating procedures among the media consolidated entities, here in America.

    One notices quickly, that Brauer is willing to avoid Constitutional questions surrounding the treatment of journalists. An informed public is of no interest to this man.

  12. Submitted by Mark Murphy on 11/30/2008 - 04:52 pm.

    It seems to me that being a photographer—even a press photographer—has become a very serious business. It is distressing that the press is being attacked like this…and even more disturbing that the public has come out against the press when those attacks do occur. Case in point: a news reported who was attacked in Connecticut while doing a story about a man who was arrested. The comments on the story were overwhelmingly against the reporter.

    My brother in law was a journalist in the Philippines, for a small newspaper called Katapat. His name was Robert Ramos; he had entered the profession a couple of years previously after working for Sharp Philippines. It was after that plant closed that he turned to journalism, with the help of a friend of his, who happened to be a journalist himself. Robbie was assasinated in the public market in Kabuyan, Laguna over 3 years ago; perhaps because of the coverage he had given to prostitution rings and, lastly, to pirated CDs. Just before his murder, the governor of Laguna attacked him after trying to get a story from her…His murder got scant press here, but was covered quite extensively in other countries, such as Australia, Bangladesh, and of course, the Philippines. 2 men were eventually arrested for his murder; so far, we have no word on their trial…or if they were put on trial. (his profile can be found on

    Because of 9/11, our fear about terrorists, and a federal government that has concentrated on any suspicious person (including the press), we are less free. Our journalists and photographers labor under more dangerous conditions then ever before, and the situation threatens to resemble the Philippines more then the U.S. More then just journalist and photographers who are more at risk, the ordinary photographer is at risk more, and under heightened suspicion for being a terrorist…and more prone to arrest for his or her photography. Here in Boston, it is illegal to photograph inside the subway…and it is enforced by the camera on the platform. During the past year, I have been accosted 4 times for taking pictures in the subway or T, as the subway here is called; twice by inspectors…and twice by the T police. The last occurence might have ended in my arrest, had my wife not been present; I am quite sure the cop who stopped me at the JFK station (on the bus platform) would have made the arrest if I had been alone.

    All these things make our country the worse to live in…this needs to end, before our press is rendered unfree and killed off, as that can be the next logical step in the escalation.

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