Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lawsuit vs. UCPD

Before dawn on December 11, 2009, UCPD illegally arrested 66 protesters and sympathizers who had been participating in the week-long open "occupation" of Wheeler Hall. While university spokespeople feigned concern over a concert planned for that night, internal administration emails reveal that in reality they had planned to shut down the action from the beginning, and were simply looking for the opportunity to strike. But the concert was held anyway at an off-campus location, and from there a group of protesters marched to the Chancellor's house to demonstrate. Some minor property damage occurred, the police arrived quickly, and the protesters scattered. Eight were arrested.

Two of those arrested were UC Berkeley students, who suffered abusive and unconstitutional punishment at the hands of the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) and the UC administration more generally. OSC and the Code of Student Conduct together constitute one arm of the university's repressive apparatus, but it can only be deployed against students -- not their sympathizers.

The other arm is UCPD. Also arrested that night was Indybay reporter David Morse, who had been taking pictures of the demonstration. After arresting Morse, the cops illegally tried to use his photos in order to gather evidence against the protesters. Morse had the search warrant they used to justify stealing the photos quashed, and they had to be returned. Now, a year later, he's posted some of the photos on Indybay (including the ones used here).
Furthermore, Morse has filed a lawsuit against UCPD for the illegal arrest. From the press release announcing the suit:
Oakland — On Thursday, December 9, veteran journalist David Morse filed suit against University of California, Berkeley Police officers and other defendants in U.S. District Court for violations of the First, Fourth and Eighth Amendments and for violations of a federal law barring the use of search warrants for unpublished journalistic materials. The lawsuit follows Morse’s successful motion to quash a search warrant that issued for his unpublished news photographs.

Morse is a 42-year-old journalist who has covered hundreds of demonstrations and other events since 2002. He was arrested without probable cause at a protest he was covering at UC Berkeley on December 11, 2009. The arrest occurred after officers allowed a rowdy group of demonstrators, many of whom were wearing masks, to flee. Instead of giving chase, Morse’s arresting officer pulled his car up to Morse and said, “I saw you take a picture of us. We want your camera.” Officers arrested Morse despite the fact that he informed them of his journalist status six times and denied all wrongdoing.

Officers jailed Morse, then increased the charges against him in order to buy themselves time to prepare a misleading search warrant affidavit that omitted any mention of Morse’s newsgathering activities. First Amendment Project successfully quashed that search warrant in June on the basis that it violated Section 1524(g) of the California Penal Code, which absolutely bars search warrants for unpublished journalistic materials. Federal law also bars such warrants.

Although Morse’s charges were dropped at his first court appearance, the defendants refused to return his images for more than six months and even made surveillance photographs of him when he attempted to retrieve them in person.

The federal suit filed today seeks damages against the various defendants, as well as a judicial order mandating additional training. High-ranking UCPD officers are separately being sued under similar causes of action by the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation for searching a newspaper office in 2008, litigation that was ongoing at the time of Morse’s arrest. Nonetheless, UCPD Captain Margo Bennett has been quoted as stating that UCPD has not considered changing the way it deals with journalists.
UCPD must pay for its authoritarian actions. In our efforts to get COPS OFF CAMPUS, anything that puts pressure on the police is helpful. More coverage of the lawsuit here.ucberkeleychancellorhouseprotest_121109e.jpg

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