LOS ANGELES (CN) – A veteran journalist rushes to city hall to report on a nighttime raid to take down Occupy LA. As riot police move on protesters he is the only credentialed journalist on the scene. He manages to call his news desk from behind a tent and blurts: “They’re coming from city hall!”
Calvin Milam had only one thought on his mind as more than 1,000 officers closed in on the hundreds of occupiers in the downtown park – get out of there and finish his story. He reached a police line on Spring Street and explained to the LAPD officers that he was journalist caught in the middle of the raid. He showed them his press credentials.
As he attempted to cross the line, he was wrestled to the ground, dragged away by officials in hazmat suits, and hauled off to jail. Three days after his release, his wrists were still bloody from where the handcuffs had slashed his skin.
“I was haunted by the words of arresting cops. Before I ever hit the pavement, one was saying ‘Looks like we’ve got a drunk reporter here,'” Milam wrote in unpublished op-ed piece titled “Why I Sued the LAPD.” He notes that his colleagues had not seen him take a drink in 20 years.
Milam outlined the events above during a telephone interview and in an excessive-force lawsuit filed against the city in late 2012 – close to a year after the city’s raid on Nov. 30, 2011.
Now Milam has settled the case for $50,000 after the parties reached an agreement last month in U.S. District Judge U.S. Magistrate Carla Woehrle’s courtroom.
“Chump change” was how Milam, 53, described the settlement during a phone interview on Wednesday.
The city admitted no wrongdoing and did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Milam estimates that half will cover legal costs and attorney fees to his attorney Mark Geragos, a well-known criminal defense lawyer.
City New Service never publicly supported Milam after his arrest, he says.
The journalist says he is now unemployed, bankrupt and living on an old sailboat in Marina del Rey. He says his decision to take legal action cost him job and ended a decades-long career in journalism that began at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.
City News Service, which provides content to media outlets in Southern California, fired Milam in January after 24 years and two months at the wire service, he says.
After his arrest, the journalist says his employer put him on restrictive duty and cut his hours. Milam says that when he was let go, City News Service said it could no longer afford his wages.
“I was effectively silenced, one way or another,” Milam said.
A police officer charged the journalist with unlawful assembly but the charge was later dropped, according to Milam’s 2012 state court complaint, later removed to Federal Court.
Officials claimed the reporter was drunk, belligerent and did not identify himself as a reporter. But that explanation appears flimsy when compared to video of the incident that at time of this report is still on YouTube.
It depicts Milam showing his press credentials to police and crossing a police line. Officers wrestle him to the ground and then he is forcibly taken away.
The journalist says he has been looking for work for six months but is not optimistic about his chances of landing another job.
“I realized no one was going to stand up for me,” Milam wrote in the op-ed. “Not my employer, not its union, not other media outlets, not journalism organizations. I had a serious stink on me.”
During the phone interview Milam said City News Service “never made any public statement even though they knew I didn’t drink.”
“They never responded to any of the allegations where the cops, while I was in jail, were supposedly saying I was belligerent and drunk,” he said.
In response to Milam’s time at City News Service, Geragos said: “I understand that’s what Calvin believes.”
He declined to comment further but said Milam’s payout represents a “fair and appropriate” deal compared to a settlement in a class action complaint filed by Occupy LA protestors against the city. The attorney said Milam’s settlement “greatly exceeded” the $6,000 to $7,000 each class member received in that case.
“That’s obviously why we recommended taking it,” Geragos said.
City News Service President Douglas Faigin said the company could not comment on personnel matters.
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