OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A photojournalist claims that UC Berkeley police officers wrongfully arrested and detained him on bogus charges as he covered a student demonstration last year.
David Morse, 42, a photographer for online newspaper Indybay since 2004, arrived at the Berkeley campus on Dec. 11, 2009 to cover a concert, but instead got caught up in a student protest. Morse followed the protestors, photographing them as they made their way up the steps of the Chancellor’s house, as a UCPD squad car approached.
“Rather than pursue the fleeing demonstrators, many of whom had their faces covered, the police car pulled up directly in front of Morse,” the federal complaint states. “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 he told the officers that he was a journalist and tried to show them his press pass, but they handcuffed him and put him into the back of the squad car and confiscated his camera and cell phone.
“Morse explained to the officers that he did not think it was legal for them to detain him and seize his camera. Officer Wyckoff responded by saying, ‘You’re not a lawyer, so shut the fuck up,'” according to the complaint.
In an interview, Morse’s attorney Geoffrey King said the whole incident was “quite striking.”
King said Morse was “completely separate and apart from these protesters” and “was clearly newsgathering at the scene.”
King said Morse “told the officers six times that he was a journalist, showed them a press pass, and they told him to ‘shut up,’ that it didn’t matter and they’d done this to other news organizations. They didn’t let him explain at all, and they said they had done it to KTVU as well.”
Riot and vandalism charges against Morse were dropped a few days later, but the memory discs containing the photographs were not returned to him. The UCPD also searched his camera using a warrant that was later quashed.
As a journalist, Morse says he is covered by the Privacy Protection Act, which King said “applies to anybody gathering information for the public.”
King said Morse has “covered these things hundreds of times, and he wasn’t doing anything differently. I think he just ran into the wrong officers.”
King said this isn’t the first time the UCPD has been accused of violating the rights of journalists, noting a pending 2008 action claiming the UCPD violated the Privacy Protection Act when it searched a newspaper office. King said the force has not done enough to change, and that Captain Margo Bennett has said the force has no plans to revise the way it deals with journalists.
Morse demands the return of his photographs, and that the UCPD be ordered to train its officers to “ensure defendants’ acts are not repeated in future years.”
He sued the regents of UC Berkeley, the UC Berkeley Police Department and its chief and five officers, Alameda County and its Sheriff’s Department and sheriff.
He seeks nominal, compensatory and special damages for constitutional and Privacy Protection Act violations. He is represented by Geoffrey King with the First Amendment Project.