City Council Approves Call for LAPD Report on Detentions of Journalists

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The violent arrest of KPCC’s Josie Huang by sheriff’s deputies was captured on video. She was covering a story and repeatedly identified herself as a reporter.

The Los Angeles City Council on May 5 approved a Public Safety Committee report directing the LAPD to report to the council on detentions of press members at recent protests, including protests over racial injustice during the summer of 2020, demonstrations after the Dodgers World Series victory, and demonstrations in Echo Park regarding the homeless encampment.

The original motion was introduced by Councilmembers Kevin de León (District 14) and Mike Bonin (District 11) at the end of March following the detention of several reporters covering the Echo Park demonstrations.

“As someone whose very presence here on the Los Angeles City Council is predicated on a life of organizing and protesting to advance social justice, I believe that protecting journalists from law enforcement detentions or arrests is effectively protecting democracy itself,” said de León. “The press has always been considered the Fourth Estate, which is why freedom of the press is embodied in the First Amendment.”

The motion further calls for a report on procedures surrounding issuing and recognizing press credentials, and crowd control procedures involving journalists.

“A free press is an essential element of a democracy and I am committed to ensuring reporters have transparent access to covering protests and other events where law enforcement is present, stated Bonin. “I’m appreciative of my colleagues’ approval of this motion and I’m eager to hear LAPD report to the council on what it is doing to ensure freedom of the press in Los Angeles.”

There has been widespread concern and discussion among journalists and representative organizations about detentions and restrictions placed on journalists preventing them free movement during marches and protests. The report will include an analysis on mobility restrictions and curfews.

The motion cited the following incidents:

Josie Huang

“In September, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies violently tackled KPCC reporter Josie Huang and arrested her on claims she had interfered with the arrest of a man outside of a hospital where two deputies were being treated for gunshot wounds. The district attorney refused to press charges when it was proven Huang had identified herself as a journalist.

“Last month, Lexis-Oiivier Ray of LA TACO received a letter from the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office notifying him that he faced a criminal charge for failing to follow an LAPD officer’s order to disperse during Dodgers victory celebrations, which he was covering, in October. An L.A. Times investigation found that Ray was the only person charged with failure to disperse among hundreds in the street that night.

“Free press advocates have expressed concern the action was retaliatory because Ray had recorded and distributed video showing a group of LAPD officers charging toward him, shoving him down and raising their batons as he screamed he was ‘press.’ The video amassed more than 400,000 views on Twitter and prompted the LAPD to open an internal affairs investigation.

“Last week, several journalists were detained or arrested by LAPD during demonstrations at Echo Lake Park. Those journalists included James Queally of The Los Angeles Times, who was put into zip-ties even as he had a police-issued credential hanging around his neck, and Kate Cagle of Spectrum News 1 Socal, who clearly identified herself as a reporter and was with her camera crew preparing for a live shot when she was detained. Queally and Cagle were released within hours. Reporters Jonathan Peltz and Kate Gallagher of the independent news outlet Knock LA were held for a longer period of time.

“In the days following last week’s arrests, reporters have complained that the Los Angeles Police Department tried to confine them to a ‘press pen’ far from the demonstrations they were assigned to cover, that the LAPD has slowed or ceased issuing press credentials, and that LAPD has unclear policies or standards for how members of independent media can become credentialed.”

The motion called on the LAPD to release “the number of journalists detained, the duration of their detainment, and reasoning behind such actions” and to “release of all information about arrests of or physical interactions with the press to the public.”

The LAPD was also asked to report back on:

• Procedures for recognizing press credentials

• Criteria for issuing credentials

• Technical challenges and average time it takes to issue an LAPD press credential

• Training currently conducted to ensure LAPD quickly and correctly identifies members of the news media at newsworthy events like demonstrations

• Enforcement and discipline for officers who do not follow protocol

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