This is part one of a series of stories about Shelby Talcott’s arrest in Louisville.
“They put us on the ground,” was the last text I sent. 11:02 pm.
Then I called my editor. 11:07 pm. No dice. Not sure what he would do anyhow. The police were closing in.
These were my last communications, to the Daily Caller’s chief video director and editor-in-chief, moments before I was to spend 16 hours at a detention center in Louisville, Kentucky, despite being identified and confirmed as a member of the press.
Here’s what happened.
Almost an hour earlier, just after 10 pm, I was just half a mile away from the main protest site covering a press conference from Louisville Chief of Police Robert Schroeder. He was giving an update on two officers who were shot earlier in the evening.
I headed back to the main protest site afterward, where there was a long line of officers pushing a scattered crowd mixed with press and protesters back. The evening had long been declared an unlawful assembly, but there were still a number of people out. After recording the line of officers, I noticed that most of the remaining crowd seemed to be retreating.
I followed them as they made their way down the block, turning right and then making another right so that they ended up on the opposite side of the park. The remaining crowd members seemed unsure of what to do – not quite organized, some began to go up the street and others walked in the opposite direction.
It didn’t matter which way they turned. Lines of police officers came from every direction and brief chaos began as remaining members of the crowd tried to run, turning around in various directions to look for a way out like mice in a test maze. There was none, and the officers continued to close in, corralling the group together.
What I didn’t know until later was that the LMPD had employed a tactic called a “kettle.” A kettle is a legally dubious crowd-control technique used by police officers to control large crowds. The tactic involves big sections of police who begin to move in, surrounding protesters into a small section and cutting off their ability to leave.
Some people believe the tactic is unconstitutional – the ACLU, for example, sued Washington, D.C. in 2017 after police used kettling during Inauguration Day protests.
People have won millions of dollars in restitution after being caught in a police kettle. Typically in order for police to clear themselves of legal liability, protesters need to either be unruly or violent, or they need to be violating a curfew order. In return, police are expected to issue several warnings to disperse.
I never heard any order from police officers telling press to go to a different area, nor did my co-worker Jorge Ventura or Drew Hernandez, a third independent reporter who was arrested that night.
“Get on the ground!” one officer repeatedly shouted at the corralled crowd. I listened and turned my phone on to do a brief recording of the scene. (RELATED: Kentucky Democratic Rep. Reportedly Arrested In Louisville Riots)
Police officers tackled someone to the ground in front of me, shouting that he had a gun. A woman behind me was crying and screaming that she was two months pregnant.
“Sir, we’re press!” I told an officer in front of me after being told to “put your hands on your face.”
“Stay where you are,” the officer replied.
We are all on the ground right now and police are taking people and putting them in zip tie cuffs pic.twitter.com/eIJJF1t1Ub
— Shelby Talcott (@ShelbyTalcott) September 24, 2020
Not knowing how much time I had, I quickly messaged a group chat filled with my co-workers to let them know that I was about to be arrested. This, I figured, would expedite our release, as my supervisors would certainly let police know that they had reporters in custody.
Then the mass arrests began. A female officer told me to get up and follow her. I again let her know I was press. She asked if I had official credentials – I don’t have them yet, and federal officials have spoken out about people committing violent acts while masquerading as press.
I told her no but gestured to the phone in my hand and said I could very quickly verify that I was a reporter, even offering up people to call to prove the information.
“Am I being detained? I’m press,” I asked.
“You are not being detained. You are being arrested,” a male officer barked. I told him we were press. He said press was not exempt from a curfew or an unlawful assembly.
LMPD told media earlier Wednesday that they would not be subject to the curfew nor the unlawful assembly order so long as they remained “as a bystander/observer of the activity” and did not “hinder the operations of officers,” Olivia Krauth, an education reporter at the Courier Journal, tweeted.
This is what LMPD told media earlier Wednesday regarding curfew. Past curfews didn’t apply to journalists either. pic.twitter.com/2tYb4n2JNZ
— Olivia Krauth (@oliviakrauth) September 24, 2020
As a reporter observing and recording the evening’s events, I followed those rules.
Despite this, I dropped the subject.
There was a chain-link fence with multiple chains attached to it. The chains had numerous handcuffs and police officers were lining up people from the crowd and putting them onto the chain link fence, shoulder-to-shoulder and back-to-back, like dogs in a yard.
The female officer told me to put the phone away and took my backpack, directing me to place my hands behind my back. I was zip tied, and she gave me a pat down. Another male officer arrived to hold my backpack and then the duo escorted me down the street and into a sort of garage where they were processing all of the people arrested that evening.
I remember asking to speak to my lawyer.
— Drew Hernandez (@livesmattershow) September 25, 2020
The garage was a mess, dirty, hot, crowded, and chaotic, with some officers standing around while others processed protesters for arrest.
My arresting officer began to ask me the basics. Name, address, birthday, social security number. I blanked on the last one, and she chastised me for being 27 and not knowing.
The woman asked me for ID, but I didn’t have it. She seemed to doubt whether I put my real name down, telling me that if I was lying (apparently people do), it would take even longer to get out.
Some time passed, then police ushered me through the garage to an area where they were lining up all the people caught in the kettle. There was a chain-link fence with multiple chains attached to it. The chains had numerous handcuffs and police officers were lining up people from the crowd and putting them onto the chain link fence, shoulder-to-shoulder and back-to-back, like dogs in a yard.
An officer added me to a chain filled with handcuffed women. I noticed many of them had been able to wriggle one hand free of the zip ties. I tried, but mine were just too tight. After several tries, I managed to get one officer to agree to loosen one of the handcuffs from my wrist, although he said he was unable to do anything about the zip ties.
Then, I waited … for awhile. Most of the people arrested were complying, with some shouting obscenities at the officers and others treating them respectfully.
The woman next to me repeatedly asked for water, but was both denied and ignored by various officers. After what felt like an hour, I spotted Jorge, who had not yet been added onto the chains.
I would find out later that an officer approached Jorge before he was added to the chains and told him he knew who he was and who I was, and that he had our editor-in-chief Geoffrey Ingersoll on the phone.
The officer told Jorge that he knew we were both accredited media, told him to hold on for a minute and left the area. Not even two minutes later, Jorge told me, the officer returned – with a very different attitude.
The officer said that our company needed to email credentials to the police. Geoff later told me that it was actually him who offered to email them proof, but was told it wouldn’t be necessary.
He added that we would be charged with two misdemeanors and would spend the night in jail.
— Jorge Ventura Media (@VenturaReport) September 26, 2020
Throughout all of this, officers slowly grabbed people from the chains, taking them inside to be processed and replacing them with new protesters. Before we could be processed, a man had to come and take pictures of us. He also took photos of our handcuffs/zip ties. No one had done this for me yet.
Finally, the female officer came back after and began to remove the handcuffs. The women next to me, who had arrived beforehand, were not happy.
“What the fuck? Why are they taking you? Who are you?” one said.
Thinking I was about to be released, I said that I was a reporter.
“Fuck you!” they yelled as I walked by with the officer. One said something about “white privilege” and began to yell about getting special treatment.
I soon realized that I was not being taken to be released. I’m not quite sure why I was removed from the chains. I asked the female officer if I was going to end up in the same cell as the women who had cursed at me.
She told me that I probably would be and wondered aloud why I cared. I said I was worried because they now knew that I was a reporter, pointing out their hostility towards me. The officer suggested that this was my own fault for being out and about and getting arrested.
Shortly afterwards, the man came to photograph me. Another officer told the woman who had arrested me to put me in one of the chain-link cubicles that was behind the fence. She tried, but I was zip-tied in a way that didn’t allow for the handcuffs to be put on (they were too high).
Instead, she returned me to the line of women on the chain – some had been replaced with new people, but most were the same (including two of the girls who had just heckled me).
I spotted Jorge at some point during this process and we acknowledged each other silently. He was now on a line of chains alongside men and his zip ties were loose enough where he could sneak looks at his cell phone. I assumed he was messaging people about our arrest so that we could get released as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, more people began to arrive and it was clear the officers were overwhelmed. We began sharing handcuffs with other people arrested – one handcuff per person. The woman I shared a cuff with was much taller than me, meaning my arm was forced up my back and my zip-ties cut off circulation to my hand even more.
One of the females who yelled at me had managed to get a hand free. She had gotten a lighter past her arresting officer. I watched as she used the lighter to melt away the plastic on the zip ties, freeing up some people’s hands.
As I was watching her sneak the lighter around, I spotted Drew, walking right past the line of arrested women.
“Drew! Drew!” I said, trying not to be too loud. Drew did not look at me, but gave a quick nod. I could tell he was worried about being identified. He was chained up to the fence behind me, as room on the line of chains was quickly running out.
After Drew was chained up, we made eye contact and he mouthed to me that someone had called for Jorge and I. This gave me hope, as it indicated (or so I thought) that the police were in the process of sorting out the fact that we are legitimate members of the press. I prayed I’d be released soon.
Time passed. I was really beginning to feel these zip ties. Old sports injuries started to nag. One of the girls behind me on the line pleaded with an officer to loosen ours, to no avail. Some officers she asked simply ignored her and one said that he didn’t agree with having both hands zip tied, but added that it was out of his control.
— Jorge Ventura Media (@VenturaReport) September 24, 2020
After multiple requests, one of the friendlier male officers – one I had seen giving water to protesters – came over and cut the zip ties off her.
I got my hopes up that I would be next, but another officer came and quickly grabbed the cutters from him. The nag became a deep ache. The woman who had just been freed grabbed my hands and tried to get them out – but it didn’t work. I tried not to cry. I had to have been chained up like this for almost two hours at this point.
FINALLY, someone came by and cut my zip ties off. I was allowed a free hand, with the other handcuffed to the chains. I could feel glorious blood rushing back into the limb.
I grabbed my phone out of my pocket and realized we had been standing there for even longer than two hours.
“Me Jorge and Drew Hernandez are arrested,” I fired off a message to a Daily Caller group chat. “Pls get us out … Handcuffed on a line of chains.”
“They just took off my zip ties so I have one hand free finally,” I sent at 1:44 a.m.
This was the last message I would be able to get out for the next 14 hours.
“This will be uncomfortable”
Finally, the female officer returned and cut me loose. She took me over to a desk where I had to remove my sweatshirt, hat and necklace. I got an officer to write an editor’s phone number down for me, assuming they’d be taking my phone.
I gave them my information again and sat down in a chair for a few minutes until the processing area was free.
An officer directed me through a door and another asked if this was “my first time” here.
Take your sneakers off and put everything on the table. Put your hands up, wide. Now spread your legs, wide.
“This will be uncomfortable,” she told me, adding that she’d be doing a more in-depth pat down. I did not really understand.
But … I quickly learned.
She rubbed her hands over almost every part of my body. She went under my sports bra. She felt my breasts. She did the same for the lower part of my body, not going inside my leggings but doing aggressive swipes of her hand basically inside my vagina.
I then went through a scanner, which apparently picked up something on my front hip area. She searched me again in that area, not finding anything. I was allowed to continue, grabbing my shoes and my clip of paper with the phone number through the next room, thoroughly embarrassed.
Now I needed to do booking photos and fingerprints. I was given a wristband, similar to the ones you get at a hospital, that had my booking number, a mug shot and some other information on it.
I sat down on a row of benches. More waiting. I asked if I could make a phone call, looking at the line of old-school telephones in the middle of the room. An officer said I could but warned me that out-of-state numbers may not work. I tried the editor’s phone number I had written down for me earlier. It didn’t work.
So I called my dad, one of the only numbers I still have memorized. New York area code. I prayed again. (RELATED: Protesters March Through Louisville Streets After Breonna Taylor Decision Announced)
“Please state your name,” a recording said.
“Shelby,” I replied into the phone.
The recording continued, playing a notice that this was from an “inmate” at the corrections facility. It said to “press 1” if you wanted to accept the call, and I knew right away that my dad had accepted because the recording cut off.
“Hey Shelby,” my dad said. I told him I had been arrested. He apparently already knew. He said he was in communication with Richie. I gave him multiple names of people who worked at the Caller and told him that he needed to get in touch with them to get me out. He said he’d work on it.
“I’m proud of you,” he added.
I hung up and sat there in shock. How could I still be in here? How was this right? I looked up just in time to catch Jorge getting his photo taken. He got his wristband and tried to sit next to me, but was told to go to the other side. This side was for females only.
A young, skinny woman behind me was almost in tears. She asked me if my out of state number had worked. I told her it had. She asked if I had the number of the National Lawyers Guild, and I said I did not but motioned to a sign on the wall that had a number listed.
She tried calling.
What seemed clearest to me at this point was that I was going to jail. Worse, I was going to be housed with a group of people who might get violent if they found out where I worked.
I really had no idea how wild it was going to get.