[Hpn] ACLU lawsuit says LAPD targeted reporters during convention protests

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Thu, 24 Aug 2000 23:27:03 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.laweekly.com/ink/00/40/news-seeley.shtml

L.A. Weekly

August 25-31, 2000

Shoot the Messenger

ACLU lawsuit says LAPD targeted reporters

By John Seeley

One federal lawsuit was filed Monday, and more may follow,
charging that police interfered with the media covering
convention-week protests. The ACLU sued on behalf of five
plaintiffs who say that the LAPD targeted reporters and
photographers covering a post-concert fracas August 14
outside Staples Center.

The complaint, says ACLU attorney Michael Small, focuses
only on incidents in which the LAPD "deliberately targeted
members of the media, clubbing and shooting them." The
complaint does not include encounters where journalists may
have been accidentally hit in a crowd.

"This was a critical test to see whether a discredited
police department could discharge its duties without
violating individuals' civil rights," Small said. "The
department failed . . . and then turned on those who were
documenting that failure." The complaint, which seeks
damages for physical and emotional distress, also aims to
require the LAPD to institute new policies protecting
demonstration coverage.

Other media organizations, including the Associated Press,
the Houston Chronicle and the Hearst Newspapers, are not
part of the lawsuit but plan to write letters protesting the
abuse their employees faced.

LAPD spokesman David Kalish said complaints about the police
breaking up the crowd after the concert by Rage Against the
Machine are without merit. "It would be ludicrous to imagine
the LAPD would target members of the media. However, during
the incident following the rock concert, it may be possible
that media who were in the group were inconvenienced."

Plaintiffs include consumer advocate David Horowitz,
photographer Al Crespo, and three freelancers working with
network news crews. Several other assaulted journalists are
consulting with their employers and unions before deciding
whether to join the ACLU suit, take separate action or drop
the matter.

Horowitz wandered into trouble en route from Staples Center
to a parking lot, carrying a video camera and audio gear
after a day of interviewing delegates. It was his bad luck
to arrive at Olympic and Figueroa just as protesters and
concertgoers were trying to leave the intersection and
police decided to forcefully break up the crowd. As mounted
officers moved in, said Horowitz, he ran to what he thought
was a safe spot and pulled out a small digital video camera
to record the action.

As Horowitz recounts events on his www.fightback.com Web
site, though his press pass was clearly visible, an officer
"came at me with a baton, and shouted, `Move! Move, or
else!' I turned, and another officer swung at me with his
baton, while the second officer knocked me down and kicked
the camera out of my hand. I shouted, `I'm press, I'm press!
Please stop!' Then a third officer kicked my briefcase into
a nearby wall as rubber-bullet shots crackled like
firecrackers around me."

It was almost three hours before Horowitz was readmitted to
the area to recover the briefcase. While his day's notes
were still inside, his 35mm camera and the shot roll of film
it contained were missing. Horowitz, who describes his long
relationship with the LAPD as excellent, found its
Monday-night actions a shock: "The police attacked the crowd
with such ferocity that it reminded me of disturbances I
covered in war-time Saigon, where demonstrators were shot by
overzealous police trying to control the crowd and their
public image," he wrote.

Miami TV-commercial producer Al Crespo came to L.A. to get
shots for a photojournalism project on protests. Monday
night he got at least three shots - rubber bullets to the
shoulder, ankle and temple fired at close range, seconds
after he snapped pictures of an officer firing at
individuals on a roof where a radio team had been
broadcasting. "There's clear time on both sides to recognize
who we are, who the police are and who the press is. And you
know, we are supposed to have a white flag," Crespo said. "I
was in Kosovo last year, you know, and I didn't get shot
there. I got shot in Los Angeles." According to the ACLU
complaint, the nearest protesters were 20 feet away from
Crespo when he was fired upon.

Audio engineer Greg Rothschild and cameraman Kevin Graf,
working freelance Monday for an ABC news crew, were walking
backward up Olympic while recording police activity.
Suddenly, says the complaint, officers started shooting at
the crew, striking Rothschild six times and Graf in 10
places, including twice in the head.

At about the same time, cameraman Jeffrey Kleinman was
filming events in the Figueroa-Olympic intersection for NBC
from atop a short ladder. After a volley of rubber bullets
was fired toward the crowd, one officer in riot gear, the
suit asserts, kicked the ladder, shouted "Move!" and hit
Kleinman in the chest with a baton, knocking him to the
ground.

"It was a really shocking and, I think, troubling display of
excessive force by police," said ACLU spokesman Christopher
Calhoun.

Other reporters incurred injuries during the protest
coverage, but at this time are not part of any lawsuits.
Houston Chronicle reporter Lisa Teachey said, "I wouldn't
want to cover the cops in your city." A veteran of six years
on the police beat, Teachey was trying to re-enter the
Staples area as the 15 minutes for clearing the "illegal
assembly" zone elapsed. She was told by officers inside the
security fence that they couldn't open the gate until all
protesters had left, but that her group of about 20
journalists and delegates should just crouch down and wait.
However, while huddled in a corner, the group was rushed by
mounted officers.

A horse collided with the group, knocking Teachey over a
cement barricade, cutting her knee deeply. Again they
pleaded to get inside the security fence, says Teachey, but
only one - a crying Indiana delegate with a torn dress - was
allowed through. Seeking help for her bleeding cut, Teachey
was instead ordered to keep moving with the protesters. Six
different officers refused her pleas for help in finding
first aid, and she had to walk blocks to the south side of
the secured area, being admitted only after the intervention
of an elderly delegate. The cut became infected due to delay
in cleaning it out, said Teachey, "so I'll have a nice
little scar - it should be in the shape of an LAPD badge."

Judy Holland, a reporter for Hearst Newspapers' Washington
bureau, said she was clubbed by an officer and knocked to
the ground as she was trying to return from the convention
to the Marriott Hotel. She had removed her press ID and DNC
credentials at the suggestion of several officers at Staples
who told her demonstrators might hurt her if she was wearing
them. The Chronicle and Hearst have also sent written
protests to the city over police conduct.

On Wednesday, at a protest against police brutality, a Cable
News Network sound technician sought medical attention after
being struck in the chest by a police baton during a
standoff between police officers and protesters. A
62-year-old CBS-TV cameraman was hit in the chest and
bleeding during the Wednesday encounter.

Still other reporters and photographers who mingled with the
crowd leaving the protest/concert area were hit with rubber
bullets fired by police.

Associated Press broadcast reporter Brian Bland and Flynn
McRoberts of the Chicago Tribune were arrested Tuesday night
while covering a bike-ride protest to "take back the
streets" and "relieve traffic congestion and pollution." The
two reporters were arrested with 35 protesters from the
Critical Mass group while cycling through downtown streets
with police escorts. They were held for more than seven
hours before being released; other cyclists were held for
more than 30 hours. The two reporters and the others were
initially cited for "reckless driving" of a bicycle, but
this charge was changed to "obstructing a public way," a
misdemeanor, when prosecutors realized that the recklessness
charge cannot apply to bicycles. McRoberts' rented bicycle
is still being held by police as evidence. Bland's
sound-recording equipment and bicycle were confiscated. The
AP is protesting the arrest. LAPD Commander David Kalish
said that the two reporters were arrested because they were
doing the same things that the protesters were doing. Bland
says he wasn't aware of anything illegal going on.
Arraignments are scheduled for September 5.

Arresting and assaulting journalists during Democratic
Convention week seems to be part of a growing trend during
protests at large political events, said Lucy Dalglish of
the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "Police
and prosecutors are arresting and charging journalists for
doing their jobs at rates not seen in decades. There's no
willingness to give reporters the benefit of the doubt
anymore."

Copyright (c) 2000 L.A. Weekly Media. All rights reserved.

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