FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: OCT 27, 2018
Contact: Diana Mitsu Klos, director of engagement (202) 728-7267/ firstname.lastname@example.org
For doggedly exposing controversies involving campus and local police, The Southwestern College Sun is the recipient of the Student Press Law Center’s 2017 Reveille Seven College Press Freedom Award.
“The culture at The Sun is to speak truth to power and hold the powerful accountable. These journalists are to be commended for consistently filing California Public Records requests, digging through court documents, and poring over campus police budgets, records and CLERY Act reports to identify and verify issues of concern to the community,” said Hadar Harris, SPLC executive director.
The Sun, based at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Calif., has researched and reported on multiple problems involving the Southwestern College Campus Police Department and the San Diego Police Department.
The Sun will be recognized during an awards ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 27 at the National College Media Convention in Louisville, Ky. which has drawn 1,300 college journalism students and advisers.
“We ignored all the hate and pushback and did our jobs as journalists,” said Alyssa Pajarillo, The Sun’s 2017-18 editor-in-chief.
Coverage includes the 2017 resignation of the campus police chief whose five year tenure included accusations of misfiring his gun at headquarters, covering up sexual assaults, misuse of police funds and inaccurate crime log reporting.
The Sun also investigated an incident in which the San Diego Police Department officers arrested Frederick Jefferson, a 39-year-old homeless Navy veteran about a block away from the protest, citing jaywalking. An officer whose nose and jaw was broken said Johnson escalated the situation by sucker punching him.
The Sun, which covered the protest and saw no such thing, interviewed witnesses, reviewed video of the event and used geo-mapping software that indicated that Jefferson did not provoke violence, fought back and was beaten, tased and pepper-sprayed.
A police spokesman called The Sun newsroom and, according to students and their adviser, berated them as “f—ing morons,” “idiots,” “cop haters,” “stupid ass hippies,”’ “amateurs,” “gullible” and “losers,” among other things.
In March of this year, a Superior Court judge told the officers they unnecessarily escalated an infraction into a violent confrontation with Jefferson.
“In my 23 years advising this paper my students have done some remarkable work … their coverage of local police has been among the finest. In my opinion, this is the best piece of journalism in San Diego County this year – at any level.” said Max Branscomb, The Sun adviser, in his nomination letter.
“It exposed brutal and mendacious behavior by the San Diego Police Department, lazy work by the region’s news media and another case of unfair treatment of an African American, one who may have been killed by police on a bloody sidewalk were it not for witnesses,” Branscomb wrote.
Jefferson died by suicide in jail on Sept. 1, after a jury sentenced him to seven years in prison.
“He was found guilty despite having a rock-solid defense case, and was dead less than 18 hours after the sentencing,” said current Editor-in-Chief Katy Stegall.
“This award is an honor. What means more to the students at The Sun though was that we provided a platform for his voice when no one else would. He said The Sun was the only thing that gave him hope as he stared down the barrel of a ten-year sentence. We hope to continue to hold those in authority accountable for their actions. We thank those who decided our work was worthy of this prestigious award,” Stegall said.
The award is jointly sponsored by the Student Press Law Center, the Associated Collegiate Press and Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication.
The Manship School funds the $2,000 prize in memory of a group of courageous LSU editors (“The Reveille Seven”) who were expelled in 1934 for publishing criticism of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long. The young journalists were later cleared of wrongdoing and vindicated.
The Student Press Law Center (splc.org, @splc) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working at the intersection of law, journalism and education to promote, support and champion the rights of student journalists and their advisers at the high school and college levels. The SPLC provides information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists and the educators who work with them.