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Six-Figure Settlement Reached in Federal Lawsuit Challenging Police and Secret Service Crackdown on Democracy Now! Journalists
Rights Groups and Defendants Announce that Settlement should be a Message to Law Enforcement Nationwide in Future Dealings with Peaceful Protesters, Journalists, and Observers
MINNEAPOLIS - October 3 - Today, award-winning journalist Amy Goodman announced that a final settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit brought by Goodman and Democracy Now! producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar against the cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul and the U.S. Secret Service, challenging the policies and conduct of law enforcement at the 2008 Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities. Goodman and her colleagues were unlawfully arrested and subject to excessive force while reporting on public protest and political dissent surrounding the Convention.
“When journalists are arrested, it is not only a violation of the freedom the press, but of the public's right to know,” said Goodman. “When journalists are handcuffed and abused, so is democracy. We should not have to get a record when we put things on the record.”
Filed last year on behalf of Democracy Now! by the Center for Constitutional Rights and pro bono attorneys Steven Reiss from Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP in New York and Albert Goins of Minneapolis, the federal lawsuit asserted that the government cannot, in the name of security, limit the flow of information by intimidating and arresting journalists who engaged in constitutionally protected reporting on speech protected by the First Amendment such as dissent or law enforcement activities.
The settlement includes compensation of $100,000 for the three journalists and an agreement by the St. Paul police department to implement a training program aimed at educating officers regarding the First Amendment rights of the press and public with respect to police operations—including police handling of media coverage of mass demonstrations—and to pursue implementation of the training program in Minneapolis and statewide.
Said CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy: “CCR is proud to stand with the courageous journalists from Democracy Now! and dozens of other media organizations in their fight to ensure that the right of the press to document political events is preserved. This lawsuit sends an important message to police departments all over the country, especially ones responding to lawful demonstrations and political protests, that failure to respect the constitutional rights of citizens and journalists may expose municipalities to serious liability.”
Ms. Salazar was filming a demonstration outside the RNC Convention when riot police cornered her, forced her violently to the ground, bloodying her face, handcuffed her and disabled her camera, all while ignoring her protests that she was a member of the press. Mr. Kouddous, who was also covering the protests, tried to come to Ms. Salazar’s aid by explaining to the police she and he were journalists; the police slammed him against the wall and repeatedly kicked him in the chest. Ms. Goodman, upon hearing that her colleagues were arrested, rushed to the scene from the convention floor and asked to speak with a supervising police officer. Without any lawful basis, police pulled Ms. Goodman over a police line and arrested her. All three journalists were detained for several hours. Mr. Kouddous was again unlawfully arrested three days later along with a large group of journalists. All charges against the journalists were later dropped. Videos of the violent arrests are available on CCR’s legal case page. Video of their arrests is also available at www.democracynow.org.
Steven Reiss of the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, which provided pro bono assistance on the case, added: “This resounding vindication of the right of journalists to gather news free from unconstitutional interference by the authorities is a victory for democracy. The lawyers at Weil are pleased that we helped achieve this important result.”
Goodman added: “As we move into the next conventions and cover protests like Occupy Wall Street, this largest settlement to come out of the 2008 RNC arrests should be a warning to police departments around the country to stop arresting and intimidating journalists. We see the financial settlement and the requirement that the police departments receive First Amendment training on the rights of the press as a major step forward.”
The legal team in the case included CCR Senior Staff Attorney Anjana Samant, Steven Reiss and Christine DiGuglielmo from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, based in New York, and Albert Goins of Minneapolis.
For more information on the case, visit CCR's legal case page.
Democracy Now! is a daily public tv/ radio news hour broadcasting on over 960 stations around the world.