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LA sues ‘muckraker’ for return of undercover officer headshots

The city seeks a court order to stop the "Watch the Watchers" website from posting pictures of undercover LAPD officers.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The city of Los Angeles sued a self-described muckraker journalist for the return of photographs of undercover police officers, which the city said it inadvertently turned over as part of a public records request.

In a complaint Wednesday, the city claims Ben Camacho and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which runs the "Watch the Watchers" website where the officers' pictures are posted, have rebuffed requests for the return of the flash drive given to Camacho last year as part of a settlement and for all copies of the photographs to be destroyed.

The city gave Camacho the flash drive to settle the lawsuit he had filed when the city refused to provide the photographs as part of his California Public Records Act request for an up-to-date roster of LAPD officers' names, badge numbers and department headshots. According to the city, the settlement didn't include pictures of the undercover officers as well.

"Select sworn law enforcement officers serve in sensitive assignment, including as undercover officers, who work covertly by concealing their identities as agents of the law to gather information about criminal activities," the city says. "Exposure of their true identities compromises current and future criminal investigations and exposes these officers to real and present danger of harm by criminals with whom they engage."

Last month, the Los Angeles Police Protective League sued an activist who tweeted out a link to the "Watch the Watchers" site that divulged the identity of numerous undercover LAPD officers. The tweet "represents a direct threat to the lives and wellbeing of LAPD officers," according to the union's complaint, which asked for an injunction to take down the offending website.

"The city of LA's intimidation lawsuit against me is an example of LAPPL using the city to do its dirty work," Camacho said Thursday, referring to the police union. "Attempting to claw back records that exist in the public domain and fabricating this whole mess is very telling of the minds behind both the city's lawsuit and the LAPPL's. The photos are out there, they need to accept that."

With the data the city provided to Camacho last year, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition created the "Watch the Watchers" site — a searchable database of every LAPD officer that includes their name, rank, serial number, photograph and work email.

The website is intended as a tool to empower community members engaged in "copwatch and other countersurveillance practices," the site reads. "You can use it to identify officers who are causing harm in your community. The website’s ease of use also makes it a political statement, flipping the direction of surveillance against the state’s agents. Police have vast information about all of us at their fingertips, yet they move in secrecy."

In Wednesday's lawsuit, the city claims Camacho and Stop LAPD Spying are in wrongful possession of the flash drive and the exempt photographs, and it seeks a court order for the return of the property and authorizing the county sheriff to seize it, as well as an injunction against the website posting the inadvertently provided pictures.

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Categories / Government, Media, Regional

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