Journalist Sues Cops Who Handcuffed Him for Photographing 'Cop City' Arrests

After police detained Benjamin Hendren, they urged construction workers to lie about him.


In 2022, photojournalist Benjamin Hendren photographed some police officers arresting a group of protesters. Even though Hendren didn't interfere with police activity—he even offered to let the officers speak with his editor—the officers arrested him. What's more, they even encouraged employees at the construction site being protested to fabricate statements about Hendren.

Hendren has now filed a lawsuit against the officers who arrested him, arguing he was punished for exercising his First Amendment rights. 

On July 29, 2022, Hendren, a freelance reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, heard over police radio that there was law enforcement activity at a protest opposing the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, also called "Cop City." When Hendren arrived near the site,* he began taking pictures from a public sidewalk across the street from where Georgia State University police officers had arrested a group of protesters who had allegedly trespassed on a construction site.

"At no point did Hendren commit any crime, and at no point did he do anything that any officer could have mistaken as a crime," the lawsuit states. "Further, Hendren did not interfere in any way with the traffic stop that was being conducted."

However, police still stopped Hendren and handcuffed him. They "forcibly took photographs of Hendren while he was handcuffed and sat on the curb," according to the suit. Officers even "grabbed his hair and yanked his head up so he could be photographed against his will."

But the officers didn't just unlawfully detain Hendren. The suit alleges that they encouraged two employees from Brasfield & Gorrie, a construction firm working on Cop City, to make false statements about Hendren, with the pair eventually claiming he "had committed criminal offenses at the construction site." Hendren's suit also names the Brasfield & Gorrie employees as defendants.

After this, one of the officers went so far as to write a report stating that Hendren was handcuffed because the employees "identified him as a protestor inside the construction site." But Hendren had been detained before the employees ever saw him, according to the suit. Hendren was eventually released after being detained for over seven hours.

Hendren's suit claims that the officers obviously and grossly violated his First Amendment rights. Courts have consistently found that individuals have a right to photograph police activity as long as they don't directly interfere.

"Plaintiff had a First Amendment right to photograph and film police officers carrying out their official duties in public, without police interference," the suit states. "The interference with Plaintiff's photographing and his arrest were triggered by, and in retaliation for, his protected activity of taking pictures of public police activity, and therefore violated the First Amendment."

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece misstated the location of the protest and Hendren's location in relation to the protest.