By Ken Stone
Who struck KPBS reporter Jean Guerrero in the face with a camera at a border-wall press conference? She knows but isn’t saying — yet.
In a local media mystery emerging from a widely read blog post, Guerrero is demanding that the male attacker be suspended for what she called “targeted, premeditated, calculated violence.”
The board of the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists met Tuesday night and discussed the incident after contacting Guerrero, said its president, Lisa Halverstadt.
In a statement posted on Twitter and their website, the local group commended Guerrero for speaking out but didn’t condemn anyone.
“We remind our colleagues that the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics states in part that journalists should: ‘Expose unethical conduct in journalism …[and] abide by the same high standards they expect of others.’ We encourage all journalists to behave professionally, in accordance with these principles,” said the post.
A San Diego native employed by the public station since 2015, Guerrero, 29, said she was covering the unveiling of President Trump’s border wall prototypes the morning of Oct. 26 and holding a space facing the lectern for a hobbled colleague.
But a late-arriving cameraman demanded that she move, she said in her Tuesday post, also shared on Facebook.
“He threatened to move me with force,” Guerrero wrote. She suggested he share room with the KPBS videographer. But “moments before she arrived, he rammed his camera into my face, forcefully and purposefully.”
A rubber portion of the camera hit her, she said, and didn’t leave a mark or draw blood. But fighting tears, she backed away.
“My videographer, social media producer and I were among the only women in the crowd of male videographers, and I believe we were treated with violence because of our gender,” she said in a note sent to the attacker’s employer.
Guerrero demanded “prompt action for this crime,” seeking suspension or a reprimand. “Please notify me when that happens.”
Writing in her online journal, she confessed to fearing that people would think she was being melodramatic.
“But if I don’t write about what happened, the same patterns of silence will continue,” she said. “What happened, happened. And I am pretty sure it happened because I am a woman.”
On Wednesday, Guerrero told Times of San Diego that she emailed her report of events to the San Diego Police Department the day of the incident, but later learned that the Sheriff’s Department had jurisdiction in that Otay Mesa area.
“At that point, I had been advised not to press charges until seeing what the assailant’s employer chooses to do,” she said via email. “My main reason for fighting this battle is to ensure that this doesn’t happen again to other women (or men).”
Guerrero also said she filed a report with Customs and Border Patrol the day of the incident, “and they responded immediately expressing support. Also, management at KPBS has been very supportive in helping me seek justice.”
Border Patrol spokesman Ralph DeSio called the incident “a personal matter, and we don’t look to deal with personal issues through our office.”
He added: “I’m certainly not going to provide what Jean had said or done and stated and what she received from us. … We’ll leave that up to Jean to make that determination.”
Guerrero, a bilingual reporter on border issues who in 2016 won a $10,000 national PEN award, said she didn’t want to reveal the name of the employer “until the company has finished its investigation.”
In a statement to Times of San Diego, KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo said his station “supports our employees anytime they are in a difficult position, especially during work hours. We are supporting Jean in whatever way she needs. We have been in contact with the media outlet and hope a just resolution will occur quickly.”
For her part, Guerrero is leery about the offender’s employer.
She said that “given the line of their questioning, I’m worried they want to pretend it never happened.”
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