OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A photojournalist will collect $162,000 to settle claims that police officers at University of California, Berkeley, wrongfully arrested him and illegally seized his camera after a student protest.
David Morse, 43, says he was covering an unrelated assignment at Berkely on Dec. 11, 2009, when he noticed students marching toward the residence of UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. He allegedly began following the group and taking photographs, but was later arrested by UCPD officers.
“Rather than pursue the fleeing demonstrators, many of whom had their faces covered, the police car pulled up directly in front of Morse,” his federal complaint said. “UCPD officers Manchester and Wyckoff exited the vehicle and briskly approached Morse. As they approached, Officer Wyckoff shouted, ‘I saw you take a picture of us. We want your camera. We believe your camera contains evidence of a crime.'”
Morse says informed them several times that he was a journalist and showed them his press pass, adding that he did not think they had the right to seize his camera and cellphone. The officers responded by saying, “You’re not a lawyer, so shut the fuck up,” according to the complaint.
The officers obtained a search warrant to look at the photos Morse took, but an Alameda County Superior judge invalidated the search warrant in 2010. The university was ordered to return all the photographs to their rightful owner.
Last week’s settlement requires the school to retrain its officers so illegal seizures do not happen again.
Morse was represented by Terry Gross, of Gross Belsky Alonzo, which specializes in public interest cases among other things.
“An integral part of the settlement is that all police officers must be retrained,” Gross said. “They are retraining them to understand there is protection for anyone who has documents to disseminate to the public. We agreed what the procedures will be now: all of the officers will know that whenever they see anyone with documents, or taking photographs, they will know they can’t seize those documents, get a search warrant or arrest them. They have to issue a subpoena, which gives the person an opportunity to object before the government can get hold of them. If they are a journalist, they can’t be seized at all.”
Gross said journalists are protected by the Privacy Protection Act, which was passed in 1977 after a Stanford journalist’s photographs were seized during a police raid on the school’s newspaper office.
“Some agencies want to pretend the law doesn’t exist and train their officers to seize them by any means necessary,” he said, referring to documents, cameras and cell phones. “This is a reminder that the law is there.”
Morse’s ordeal occurred around the same time that Berkeley police raided the school’s Library and Community Center in the Long Haul building. The police allegedly entered with guns drawn, seizing 13 computers, according to the Berkeley Dailey Planet.
Gross said that case ended in a $100,000 settlement just a couple months ago.