If police and protesters skirmish around the Republican National Convention, count on Philadelphia Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke to be in the middle of the action.

He was rewarded for his efforts Monday by being doused with pepper spray, knocked down and arrested by St. Paul police.

Rourke was shooting photos of the protesters at a parking lot at 7th and Jackson streets, in downtown St. Paul, when police converged from three directions on protesters that they regarded as particularly troublesome.

"We were encircled, and as I moved toward the officers in front of me in a passive manner, my legs were taken out from behind in an aggressive manner," Rourke said yesterday after 12 hours in jail.

"I went down pretty hard, causing me to scrape my elbows and knee a bit."

Rourke said that officers ignored his RNC credentials and pleas that he was a journalist as they took his camera, turned him over and wrapped his hands in plastic cuffs.

In the parking lot with Rourke was a crew from the radio and TV program "Democracy Now!" Producers Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous were also wearing RNC press credentials when they were also thrown down and arrested.

"I was kicked in the chest several times," Kouddous said. Salazar was taken away with a bloody nose.

Rourke said that earlier in the day he was hit with pepper spray several times by police and that they at times seemed to be aiming directly at him.

"I wasn't given an opportunity to wash [the pepper spray] off in prison," Rourke said.

Rourke was released at about 2:30 a.m. and was back on the job yesterday. Prosecutors say that there are no plans to charge him.

When "Democracy Now!" host Amy Goodman heard of her producers' arrest, she ran to the scene, where a video shows her immediately being arrested when she tried to speak with police.

St. Paul police spokesman Peter Panos didn't return a call for comment yesterday, but Police Chief John Harrington told reporters in a briefing that he thought police "did not overreact. They responded appropriately" in dealing with demonstrators.

When Goodman confronted Harrington at the briefing about the arrests of journalists, Harrington said that he couldn't address the specifics of their cases.

He said that police issue clear warnings to protesters and journalists before making arrests, but said that it can be hard to make distinctions in a chaotic situation.

"If a reporter is committing crimes while they're under their credentials," Harrington added, "I think they become regular citizens."*