OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – The city of Oakland agreed to pay $9,500 to an independent video journalist known for documenting police misconduct, who claimed police officers wrongfully detained him with a “groundless” jaywalking ticket.
Jacob Crawford, the founder of wecopwatch.org, said he was given the citation on July 19, 2013 for jaywalking in downtown Oakland after he took photos of police officers at a demonstration protesting the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Crawford said he also asked the officers to identify themselves.
According to the suit, Crawford was handcuffed for several minutes after he received the citation, which was eventually dismissed in traffic court.
Rachel Lederman, Crawford’s attorney, said in a telephone interview that such a policy of “aggressive ticketing” has been a recent implementation of the Oakland Police Department.
She said the officers particularly target demonstrators and journalists who are leaving the protest on bicycles and then try to catch the cyclists in technical traffic violations in order to gather their personal information.
“It’s all supposedly part of an effort to deter vandalism in connection with demonstrations, and that in and of itself would be a legitimate police goal, except the people being ticketed have nothing to do with the vandalism,” Lederman said. “The practice really does nothing to stop property damage, but it’s chilling to First Amendment activity to collect personal information about who’s going to demonstrations.”
Lederman said that in some cases the citations are legitimate, but Crawford’s was not.
“The ticket was used to intimidate him and suppress his lawful First Amendment activity,” she said. “If he hadn’t had a lawyer to fight the ticket and get it thrown out, that would have been a $150 to $200 ticket. That’s a lot of money for people who go to demonstrations.”
She said San Francisco’s police department is generally effective at policing vandalism, but she said Oakland’s tactics “actually have nothing to do with the people who are committing serious crimes.”
“They’re just trying to give as many tickets as possible to people who are demonstrators or engaging in journalism of demonstrations,” she said. “That deters the exercise of the right to free speech.”
Oakland’s city attorney could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Lederman’s office is in Oakland.
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