Charges dropped against Calif. student photographer arrested during spring anti-war protests

CALIFORNIA —A Sacramento City College studentphotographer who was arrested while covering an anti-war protest in SanFrancisco is no longer facing charges by the district attorney. NickVaranelli, a photographer for The Express student newspaper, was arrestedduring March anti-war protests in downtown San Francisco. Varanelli said the SanFrancisco Police Department did not accept his newspaper-issued press pass andarrested him along with 2,300 other people. He was charged with rioting andblocking traffic and detained for eight hours, he said. A hearing wasset for June 18, but just days before Varanelli was supposed to appear in courthe was notified via mail that his charges had been lowered to trafficinfractions. The “Courtesy Warning Notice” from the Superior Courtof San Francisco stated that Varanelli was to pay a $266 fine for the threetraffic infractions. In mid-June, Varanelli called the court to checkthe status of his case and was informed that the traffic infraction charges weredeemed invalid by San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan.According to the court’s Traffic Division Chief Jerry Washington,Varanelli’s traffic infractions were dismissed on the basis that the SanFrancisco police had insufficient evidence for the arrests. Varanelli was one of400 people whose traffic infraction charges were dismissed by the districtattorney. The charges, mostly traffic infractions, against the remaining 1,900people who were arrested have not yet been reviewed by the court.Varanelli said he was relieved that his charges were dismissed but hewas disappointed that the police did not recognize his rights as a studentjournalist. “I was upset that they weren’t dropped because Iwas a reporter, but that they were dropped because everyone’s weredropped,” he said. “It is too bad they didn’t acknowledge thatthe student press should get the same benefits as corporate media.”When he was arrested on March 20, Varanelli said police officers toldhim they would not honor his press pass because it was not issued by thedepartment. Dewayne Tully, a police spokesperson, said in March that thestandards applied to professional journalists do not always apply to students.“Generally we honor credentialed press people who work for anestablished news agency rather than for a school,” he said. “Inordinary circumstances, we would have accommodated the student, but in this caseI think we were looking for fully credentialed people from established newsagencies.” Varanelli said he was planning to fight the case incourt if his charges had not been dismissed. “It is not aboutwinning or losing,” he said. “It is about what is right and what iswrong. There is nothing wrong with taking pictures of a protest.”Varanelli said he plans on attending University of California at SantaCruz in the fall, where he said he will continue to photograph for the studentnewspaper.

Read previous coverage