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Working Journalists Attacked By Federal Agents
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – The American Civil Liberties Union today will ask a federal appeals court to allow a case brought by journalists who were kicked, punched and pepper sprayed by FBI agents to move forward. The ACLU will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to reverse an earlier decision by the district court that sided with the FBI agents and ignored important constitutional issues raised by the journalists.
“This case raises the question of how far government agents can go to impede the ability of journalists to gather the news,” said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. “It’s time for the courts to exercise some much needed judicial oversight. These journalists deserve their day in court.”
In February 2006, several journalists attempting to report on the search of a San Juan apartment by FBI agents approached agents leaving the apartment to ask for their comments. The FBI agents responded by using physical force to intimidate the journalists to stop them from reporting on the apartment search.
On November 5, 2007, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of the journalists, asserting that the FBI agents had violated their First Amendment right to gather news and their Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. The ACLU’s lawsuit asserts that the FBI agents prevented the journalists from gathering the news by, among other things, punching, shoving, and kicking them, spraying pepper spray in their faces, covering the lens of their camera, and pointing an automatic rifle at a one of the journalists.
“In keeping several journalists from doing their jobs, the FBI agents violated the First Amendment right to freedom of the press,” said William Ramirez, Executive Director and attorney with the ACLU of Puerto Rico. “The FBI should not be able to exert excessive physical force every time it wants to escape public scrutiny.”
At the time of the apartment search, the FBI was the subject of intense criticism as a result of an earlier raid in which a leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement was killed.
In addition to Crump and Ramirez, attorneys in the lawsuit are Aden Fine of the ACLU First Amendment Working Group, Josué González of the ACLU of Puerto Rico and Nora Vargas-Agosta. The Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed an amicus brief in the case.
The ACLU’s brief and other related documents are available online here: www.aclu.org/freespeech/censorship/34007res20071105.html
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