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Arrested at RNC, jailed for two days, photojournalist gives his account

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A New York Post freelance photographer was released from jail in St. Paul on Wednesday, two days after he was…

A New York Post freelance photographer was released from jail in St. Paul on Wednesday, two days after he was arrested covering the protests at the Republican National Convention.

Jason Nicholas, a credentialed photographer who freelances for the international photo agency Atlas Press and the Post, was arrested in St. Paul on Monday afternoon with several other photographers and journalists, including Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke and journalism students Ed Matthews and Britney McIntosh.    

Nicholas was held at a Ramsey County jail from Monday afternoon until 7 p.m. Wednesday, when he posted $300 bail. He faces charges of unlawful assembly and obstructing the legal process.

As of Thursday, Nicholas had finally gotten back the camera and equipment police took when he was detained. He described his arrest in a phone interview from St. Paul:

On Monday, Nicholas said, he was following a group of about 50 demonstrators walking down a street and shouting slogans when officers in riot gear advanced on them. Nicholas said he stood back, and the police told him to move so he would not interfere with the officers.   

In a nearby intersection, the officers started using riot guns to shoot non-lethal projectiles into the crowd, Nicholas said, forcing the group toward him.  He said he stayed with the crowd as the police herded the group of protesters between three adjacent buildings, creating a dead-end.  As officers surrounded the group and continued to shoot projectiles, Nicholas said, he stood next to a building taking pictures.   

"I was switching the camera from the long lens to the short lens, when a cop shot a projectile at me that blew the top part of my camera off and struck me in the chest," said Nicholas.  He described the object that hit him as a fluorescent green ball.   

Police then knocked Nicholas and his photo equipment to the ground, he said, and officers stepped on his arms and legs, poking at him with riot guns.  Nicholas said he kept yelling, "Press!" but it didn’t seem to matter.   

"I still had my New York Post ID and my credentials from the DNC prominently displayed on my chest," he said. "They ripped the credentials off, flipped me over, and handcuffed me with Flexicuffs so tight that my hands were numb within five minutes."  

Secret Service officers came over and asked for his RNC credentials, he said, but he had not yet picked them up from the convention center. Nicholas said the officers called the New York Post and Atlas to verify his employment.  

"I told them all along I was a journalist; I had a laptop, four lenses, and two camera bodies with me," said Nicholas.  

Ultimately he was booked and transported to the Ramsey County jail. "Inside, I again identified myself as a member of the press," Nicholas said.  "A sergeant interviewed me, asked about my employment credentials, and said he would get me out."  

The charges he faces could be especially problematic for Nicholas because he is on parole from prison following a 1990 manslaughter conviction. All told he served 13 years, and if convicted in St. Paul  Nicholas said he might be required to serve the remainder of a 19-year sentence.

Nicholas remained at the jail until attorney Bill Tilton, whose firm has partnered with the Reporters Committee to offer a media hotline for journalists covering the conventions, assisted Nicholas and left his bail money with the police Wednesday afternoon.  Tilton said he was shocked Nicholas was not released earlier, which he attributed to a higher volume of arrests than the police system was equipped to handle.