Student reporters arrested while covering Washington, D.C., protests file federal lawsuit

Four student journalists and three law students from GeorgeWashington University, who were arrested during the International Monetary Fundand World Bank protests in Washington, D.C., last month, filed a federal lawsuitOctober 15 claiming their constitutional rights had been violated by the D.C.Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. Attorney General and the National ParkService.

The lawsuit contends that the students were not engaged in anyillegal conduct by being present during the Sept. 27 protests at Pershing Parkbecause of their roles as legal observers for the National Lawyers Guild and asphotographers for the GWU student newspaper, The Hatchet.

JonathonTurley, George Washington law professor and attorney for the students, stated inthe complaint filed in federal district court that the methods police used toarrest and detain the students violated their First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and14th Amendment rights, as well as some federal statutes.

During the IMFprotests, police mass arrested protesters, journalists and bystanders alike withthe “trap and arrest” method, Turley said. Using this tactic, police outline azone that is cordoned off and arrest anyone who is caught within the area. Thecourts have yet to address the constitutionality of this “trap and arrest”method.

The students contend that the police gave no order to dispersebefore arrests began and were refused the right to leave the confined area evenafter they provided identification, such as press credentials, Turleysaid.

The lawsuit further challenges the procedures that police officersused in detaining the students and protesters for excessive periods of time, upto 30 hours.

Among the long list of violations, the student’s claim thepolice denied their access to attorneys before entering their plea, Turley said.The George Washington students all pled no contest and paid a $50 to $100post-and-forfeit fee in order to end their detainment.

Turley is seekinga jury trial to expunge the students’ police records and is asking for punitivedamages. The court also will also be asked to address the constitutionality ofthe “trap and arrest” tactic.

SPLC View: The procedure used by lawenforcement in this case is legally suspect — and very disturbing. Fromall the evidence we’ve seen, journalists — students and commercial —were simply doing what journalists do: gathering the news — when policedecided to take the easy route and arrest everyone in sight rather than gothrough the “hassle” of actually determining that specific individuals weredoing something wrong. One can hope that this lawsuit will put an end to suchpolice “shortcuts.” In a related case, on October 18, prosecutors dropped theircharges against Jason Hornick, a photographer for the George Mason Universitystudent newspaper, Broadside, who was arrested at the same event, but whopleaded “not guilty” instead of “no contest.” The SPLC helped find Hornick anattorney who represented the student photographer for free at his hearing.