Judge denies city’s request to retrieve police photos
A Los Angeles judge on Wednesday denied a controversial request by city officials to order a local reporter to return a USB flash drive of police officers’ photographs after officials said they mistakenly included images of officers infiltration into the collection.
LA County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff’s decision was a clear victory for Knock LA photo editor Ben Camacho, who had obtained the photographs from the city through a public records request . It was also a victory for the activist group Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which the city sued with Camacho for its role in publishing the photographs online, including on its WatchtheWatchers.net website.
Beckloff’s decision did not address 1st Amendment concerns — regarding freedom of the press and the right to publish lawfully obtained materials — of a broad media coalition. The group, which included the Los Angeles Times, had backed Camacho and denounced the city’s lawsuit as overbroad.
Beckloff ruled that the city failed to make even the most basic arguments necessary for the court to intervene, including that the USB drive actually included images of undercover officers whose photos would not otherwise be subject to disclosure as part of Camacho’s public records request.
Beyond the thumb drive, Beckloff said, the city has provided no evidence as to why it should be allowed to retrieve electronic copies of the images that exist on the Internet, as it has said it wants to.
The city attorney’s office brought an LAPD commander into court Wednesday and said it could confirm the production contained photos of undercover officers, as well as specifics on who is considered undercover. Beckloff asked why this was not presented as evidence.
“Nobody knows what’s on the USB key except the city. The city has chosen here not to present any admissible evidence about what’s on the USB key,” the judge said. “Why wouldn’t you provide the court with admissible evidence that wouldn’t necessarily give me information on the names of officers or even photos, but someone who would actually have perceptual knowledge of what’s on the flash drive? “
Lawyers for Camacho and Stop LAPD Spying criticized the city for trying to bring in a new witness on them.
“The city had many opportunities to submit evidence,” Susan Seager, Camacho’s attorney, said during the hearing. “It’s the fault of the city and its inability to present evidence.”
Atty of the city. Hydee Feldstein Soto’s office declined to comment on Wednesday. He previously said his goal in taking legal action was to protect officers “whose lives and the lives of families may be at serious risk as a result of this exposure.”
Camacho and Stop LAPD Spying previously asked that the lawsuit be dismissed under California’s anti-SLAPP laws, which are designed to protect people from frivolous lawsuits for constitutionally protected activities. A victory for Camacho and Stop LAPD Spying under these laws could force the city to pay their legal fees.
A hearing on their request is scheduled for September, according to Seager, who said they would work to have it heard sooner.
“We are proud that the court considered the city’s case, that the city never defined who an undercover officer is, that it never identified with any specificity who was supposedly under cover on the USB drive,” Seager said.
Shakeer Rahman, an attorney for the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, added that “the people of Los Angeles have a right to these photographs.”
“This order confirms what we have said all along, that these documents are public documents that the city has made public, and that they belong to the public, and therefore we are free to continue to publish them, just like any the world,” Rahman said.
Earlier this month, the Times joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other media outlets in a motion saying the city’s efforts to recover the photographs violated legal protections established for journalists. media.
First Amendment experts have said any court order granting the city’s demands would amount to an unlawful “prior restraint” on the release of clearly newsworthy materials that were legally obtained.
California Daily Newspapers