ACLU Sues LAPD For Attacks on Press, Saying Police Targeted Media

August 16, 2000 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES — The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a lawsuit in federal court today against the Los Angeles Police Department for its attacks Monday night on members of the media.

“A free press guards against tyranny and abuse of power,” said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California, “and those who abuse power inevitably seek to control the images we see and the stories we hear.”

“We ordinarily receive calls after protests,” Ripston added, “but never in my memory have we received so many calls from members of the media who were attacked.”

After shutting down the concert in the protest zone across from the Staples Center, police attacked the frightened crowd with batons, pepper spray, and nonlethal bullets. Members of the media reported that police officers singled them out for attack.

Michael Small, Chief Counsel for the ACLU of Southern California, called the Monday protest a “critical test to see whether a discredited police department could discharge its duties without violating individuals’ civil rights.”

“The department failed in that charge, and then turned on those who were documenting that failure,” he said. “They pulled the plug on the rally – then tried to turn the lights out on the cameras that were recording their actions.”

“Instead of arresting the law-breaking few,” Small added, “the LAPD wielded its batons and turned its guns on the peaceful many.”

In the last 24 hours, the ACLU has received numerous calls from members of the media describing police attacks on journalists.

Al Crespo, a freelance photojournalist, was standing on the corner of Olympic and Figueroa, one block from the demonstration area near the Staples Center. As part of a project documenting political protests, Crespo took several photographs of the LAPD firing on protesters. There was nobody between the officer and Crespo. The nearest protesters were at least twenty feet away from Crespo, heading away from him on Figueroa.

Crespo had two 35 mm cameras, one draped around his neck, the other around his shoulder. He was wearing a white t-shirt and several bright, laminated media passes. Despite his clear identification, he was shot three times with rubber bullets.

One of the bullets hit him in his left temple, near his ear. Another bullet him in the right shoulder. The third bullet hit him in the right ankle. Crespo immediately felt pain from his wounds. He walked towards the Figueroa Hotel.

A bystander told him that he was bleeding from his head. Crespo was taken by ambulance to a local hospital where he received treatment for his wounds.

“Al Crespo was targeted because the recording eye of his camera threatened to capture the LAPD’s violent and lawless behavior,” said Ripston. “The bullets that struck him were not simply aimed at him. Their ultimate aim was to dislodge the eyes and ears of the public, to control our understanding of the events that unfolded Monday night, and to shut down the truth-telling role that media, at their best, can play.”

“The dangers here, both physical and Constitutional, are grave,” said Ripston. “They demand of us a vigilant and swift response. We cannot allow the Los Angeles Police Department to operate free of the constraints of public scrutiny – we know too well what happens when they do.”

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