ACLU, City Reach Settlement in Journalists’ Suit Over Convention Clubbings
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles police will designate safe areas for members of the press to observe public demonstrations so officers do not injure them when responding to protests that get out of hand, under a settlement reached yesterday between the city and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
The agreement puts an end to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of seven journalists assaulted with rubber bullets and batons by the LAPD during protests at the Democratic National Convention in August 2000.
The settlement recognizes the right of reporters to cover public protests. A press liaison will be assigned by the City of Los Angeles if officials declare an unlawful assembly and the LAPD issues an order to disperse.
“We are very pleased with the settlement agreement,” Peter Eliasberg, an ACLU attorney for the plaintiffs, said. “A free press is a fundamental requirement to a free and democratic society. This agreement helps ensure this right will be respected.”
The complaint filed by the ACLU on behalf of the journalists alleged that the LAPD deliberately targeted members of the media “who were simply doing their jobs and carrying out their First Amendment right and responsibility to convey news to our nation.”
LAPD Lt. Horace Frank told the MetNews that the department declared areas outside designated DNC protest zones to be unlawful assemblies, turning the area into a crime scene and rendering it off limits to the public and press.
Under the new arrangement, the police will make a reasonable attempt to set up a secure, designated area where the press may remain to cover events under similar circumstances, Frank said.
An amount close to $60,000 has been paid to the plaintiffs, according to an ACLU spokesperson, and each plaintiff is guaranteed $5,000, with more money going to those who suffered more severe injuries.
Rebeka Rodriguez, a member of Media Alliance in San Francisco, was hit in the head, neck and shoulder by an LAPD officer’s baton while covering the protests. She suffered a cracked shoulder blade as a result of the assault and was receiving close to $10,000, an ACLU spokesperson said.
Al Crespo, a freelance photojournalist shot three times with rubber bullets that resulted in a bleeding forehead, said he was pleased with the settlement.
“I got into this [lawsuit] for the policy issues,” Crespo said. “I’m a public policy person. The issue was very important then and important now. But after the DNC in Los Angeles, I bought a riot helmet and bulletproof vest. I don’t always wear them but have them because it is now evident that we never can tell.”
The settlement in no way guarantees the right of the media to stay and report in the event of a disaster that results from public protest, Frank said. California Penal Code 409.5 allows the media to stay and report in the event of natural disasters, but that does not apply to riot areas which become crime scenes, Frank said.
“We’ve always recognized the right of the media to report,” Frank said. “We issue press passes for media. But that right does not extend to interfering with police. Now, we can say ‘Just media are allowed in this area,’ so as to protect the media, without us being interrupted.”
The agreement was praised by Michael Diamond who, together with Sharon Jackson and Kenneth Ostrow, from Milibank Tweed, Hadley and McCloy, litigated the case with the ACLU.
“The role of the media as a watchdog is fundamental to our system of government and we are pleased the city and the police department have recognized the importance of that role,” Diamond said.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company