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Puerto Rico Journalists' Association v. Mueller

Last Update: June 25, 2010

On February 10, 2006, FBI agents executing a warrant in San Juan, Puerto Rico, searched the home of an activist associated with the Puerto Rican independence movement. After the search, a group of journalists waiting outside the condominium complex approached the agents for comment. In response, the agents pepper-sprayed the journalists, hit them with batons, and kicked and punched them, hospitalizing some reporters.

The ACLU represented the journalists in a lawsuit against the FBI in the U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico, charging the unprovoked attack violated the journalists’ First Amendment right to gather news and their Fourth Amendment protections from excessive force. A federal judge ruled against the reporters in June 2007.

But a federal appeals court partially reversed that decision in 2008, holding that the lower court erred in dismissing the journalists’ Fourth Amendment excessive-force claims. In August 2009, the U.S. District Court again threw out the journalists’ lawsuit. While acknowledging the FBI agents may have violated the reporters’ rights, the judge still ruled the journalists could neither collect damages nor obtain a court order barring the FBI from attacking them again. The ACLU is appealing the ruling.

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