NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CN) – The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department intimidated a reporter who filmed them beating a man, to try to stop him from testifying in the man’s defense, American News and Information Services claims in Federal Court.
The Connecticut-based news service claims the Sheriff’s Department wrongfully arrested and prosecuted its reporter James Playford at least four times since 2010.
It all began in July 2008, when Playford, a San Diego-based freelancer, “captured an audio-video recording (‘recording’) of SDCSD deputies beating Allen Baker outside of a drinking establishment Mollie Malone’s in Ramona,” the complaint states.
“… Playford and Baker filed a federal court action on June 2, 2009, against San Diego
County Sheriff William Kolender.”
Baker v County of San Diego is set to go to trial on Aug. 21, according to the complaint, which states: “Playford posted his recording of the Mollie Malone’s incident on the Internet and was called by the defense as a key witness in the county’s criminal prosecution of Allen Baker.
“SDCSD deputies harassed Playford and intimidated him not to testify for the
defense in the criminal prosecution of Allen Baker. …
“The City warned Playford on August 24, 2009, that his media credentials were in danger of being revoked as information had been received from the SDCSD that Playford had ‘filed complaints and court actions against deputies in which there had been apparent questionable recollections and accounting of the facts.’
“The August 24, 2009, warning letter recites SDPD policy (DP 1.31) regarding media credentials, which states that ‘A media identification card may be revoked if the holder refuses to obey an order given by a peace officer at an incident under control by the Police Department or Fire Department, and thereby jeopardizes public safety and order or interferes with an investigation.’
“The letter provides no explanation of a connection between the conduct attributed to Playford that resulted in the August 24, 2009 warning, any jeopardy to public safety caused by Playford, any interference with an investigation, or any indication that the conduct in question occurred at the scene of an investigation.”
The sheriff did revoke Playford’s media credential, the news service says. It claims that even though Playford was its employee, and covered by its press credentials, the Sheriff’s Office refuses to acknowledge Playford as a member of the media and has arrested him four times while he reported on events of public interest.
Twice, sheriff’s officers confiscated his equipment, the news service says.
American News and Playford seek declaratory judgment that the Sheriff’s Office cannot interfere with constitutionally protected activities by requiring a permit, and want the Sheriff’s Office enjoined from denying Playford access to noncriminal scenes, to report in the public interest. They also seek punitive damages for constitutional violations.
American News and Playford are represented by Rachel Baird of Torrington, Conn.