Knock LA journalists sue Los Angeles over LAPD arrests at Echo Park protest

Two journalists who were arrested while covering a protest in Echo Park last year sued the city of Los Angeles in federal court, claiming their constitutional rights were violated.

Jonathan Peltz and Kathleen Gallagher, both of the online news outlet Knock LA, were covering protests over the removal of a homeless encampment from the shores of Lake Echo Park on the evening of March 25, 2021, when police of Los Angeles declared the meeting illegal. they surrounded the assembled protesters and journalists and began to detain and arrest them.

Those arrested included Times reporter James Queally, Spectrum News reporter Kate Cagle and LA Taco reporter Lexis-Olivier Ray, though all were released at the scene. Not so Peltz or Gallagher, who were arrested and booked “despite clearly identifying themselves as journalists and being surrounded by other journalists engaged in similar conduct,” their lawsuit states.

“I never understood what his decision was on that,” Peltz said in an interview with The Times on Monday.

“They knew we were journalists. That was unmistakable to the officers who arrested us,” Gallagher said in a separate interview with The Times.

LAPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the litigation Monday. The department previously defended that night’s arrests, while acknowledging some missteps in dealing with members of the media.

The department had created a designated media area that night, but Peltz and Gallagher, and other reporters who were detained, said it was too far away for anyone to observe what was really going on between protesters and police.

Peltz and Gallagher were bound by their wrists with plastic zip ties, searched and their cellphones and other belongings were taken before being loaded onto buses with dozens of arrested protesters, many of whom were not wearing COVID-19 masks or they could do it. put the masks on their faces properly because they were also handcuffed, the journalists’ lawsuit says.

Peltz and Gallagher remained in custody for more than four hours, and Peltz later went to hospital, where medical staff said the swelling in his arms and hands was likely the result of a pinched nerve he sustained from being restrained in the cable ties for so long. weather. the claim alleges.

More than 180 people were arrested that night, most charged with disobeying a police dispersal order, but none were prosecuted, City Atty said. Mike Feuer chose not to press charges.

Peltz and Gallagher’s lawsuit, filed with the help of the Press Freedom Law Clinic at UC Irvine, alleges that their arrests violated the LAPD’s own policies for journalists at protests. He also said the arrests fit a pattern of LAPD officers “obstructing, targeting and retaliating” against journalists who report on their actions.

The lawsuit argued that the LAPD violated Peltz and Gallagher’s First Amendment rights “by arresting them for performing their work as journalists to document the actions of police officers and protesters in a public place.”

Citing the release of journalists at larger outlets, the lawsuit also alleged that Peltz and Gallagher were subjected to unfair and unlawful treatment simply because Knock LA, a nonprofit news organization started by members of the community activist collective Ground Game LA, It is not a traditional means of communication. plug.

“The Los Angeles police treated Jon and Kate like criminals, because Knock LA is not part of the mainstream press,” said Susan E. Seager, a UC Irvine law professor, one of the journalists’ attorneys. “But the First Amendment, and LAPD policy itself, do not require reporters to work for major media outlets or carry official LAPD press passes.”

The detention and arrest of so many journalists in Echo Park was one of many encounters in recent years in which police targeted journalists, and an example of harassment that journalists and media advocacy organizations noted last year. past while successfully advocating for the bill’s passage. SB 98, a law now in place in California that adds protections for journalists covering protests.

LAPD put together their own “after action report” on what happened and found flaws in their approach, but also blamed other forces and protesters for escalating the situation to one where they said officers felt threatened and the arrests became necessary.

Peltz said the police response that night, to protesters and especially journalists, was “an abuse of power,” and that he hopes the lawsuit will hold the department to account for its actions.

Gallagher said there has been “a worrying trend over the last two years of police arresting or roughing up journalists who are just trying to cover protests,” a trend he hopes the lawsuit will help end.

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