October 4th, 2011 by Mickey Osterreicher
Given the rash of recent incidents involving the arrest of citizens and journalists around the country, NPPA commends the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) for the agreement they have obtainedÂ on behalf of journalistsÂ in Goodman, et al. v. St. Paul, et al. We agreeÂ withÂ Â CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy, who said the settlement â€œsends an important message to police departments all over the country . . . that failure to respect the constitutional rights of citizens and journalists may expose municipalities to serious liability.â€
The terms of theÂ settlement include compensation of $100,000 for the three named journalists as well asÂ an “agreement by the St. Paul police department to implement a training program aimed at educating officers regarding the First Amendment rights of the press and public with respect to police operationsâ€”including police handling of media coverage of mass demonstrationsâ€”and to pursue implementation of the training program in Minneapolis and statewide.â€ Written proposals for these programs, which must be approved by the Plaintiffs and their lawyersÂ are expected to be submitted by the end of the year.
The lawsuit was filed on May 5, 2010 in the United States District Court in the District of Minnesota by the Center for Constitutional Rights and pro bono attorneys Steven Reiss from Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP in New York and Albert Goins of Minneapolis on behalf of three “Democracy Now!” journalists, Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, against federal and local law enforcement agencies.Â The defendants in the lawsuit were: the City of St. Paul, the City of Minneapolis, the County of Ramsey, St. Paul police chief John Harrington, Â Minneapolis police chief, Timothy Dolan, Ramsey County Sheriff, Bob Fletcher, an unidentified U.S. Secret Service agent and multiple unidentified law enforcement officers. The matter arose Â during the 2008 Republican National Convention, where it was alleged that law enforcement agencies targeted journalists in violation of their Constitutional rights and subjected the journalists to unlawful arrest, unlawful search and seizure and unreasonable use of excessive force.Â All charges were later dismissed.
The complaint also alleged that â€œby arresting, assaulting, and detaining Plaintiffs and other members of the press, law enforcement significantly hindered Plaintiffsâ€™ ability to . . . report on vital matters of public concernÂ Â Â Â . . .Â and the conduct of law enforcement personnel . . . .â€ Â According to reports â€œscores of journalists and other members of the media were arrested, detained, assaulted and searched. Their belongings were also seized and searched, including their cameras, video and other media equipment. The journalists prominently displayed their press credentials throughout the incidents and repeatedly identified themselves as members of the media to the acting law enforcement.â€
NPPA commends CCR for its strong stance in protecting the rights of journalists. We expect that the terms of the settlement in this case will send a strong message to law enforcement agencies around the country. The recent and continuing conduct by law enforcement agencies in harassing, detaining, interfering with and in some cases arresting citizens and journalists engaged in constitutionally protectedÂ Â activitiesÂ under color of law must cease. In each of these cases NPPA has requested that the offending police agency implement proper policies, procedures and guidelines as well as training for officers regarding the First Amendment rights of the press and public.
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