California photojournalist sues Oakland police over wrongful arrest
An Oakland Tribune photographer who was handcuffed and forced to sit on the side of the road after attempting to photograph an accident on the freeway has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Oakland.
Photojournalist Ray Chavez is seeking unspecified monetary damages as well as a court injunction that would force police to train its officers in allowing the media “reasonable access to accident and crime scenes and behind police lines.”
Judging by the incident that took place in May 2007, Oakland police are in dire need of training.
Oakland police Officer Kevin Reynolds told Chavez that he should leave, the suit said. When Chavez replied that he had a right to be there as a member of the press. Reynolds angrily told him that he “didn’t have any business here (and) that it was a crime scene,” the suit said.
When Chavez took photos of an arriving ambulance, Reynolds blocked his camera and told him, “You don’t need to take these kind of photos,” according to the suit.
Reynolds asked for Chavez’s identification and began writing him a citation, the suit said. As a California Highway Patrol cruiser arrived, Chavez again took pictures. That prompted Reynolds to say, “That’s it. You’re under arrest,” the suit said.
The officer made Chavez sit next to the overturned car with his hands behind his back for a half-hour, the suit said. Passing motorists mistakenly believed Chavez had caused the crash and “cursed and made derogatory references to and signs at plaintiff while he sat on the ground handcuffed,” the suit said.
While he was handcuffed, the officers told Chavez that he would be cited for impeding traffic and failing to obey a lawful order – which sounds extremely familiar to me. They eventually released him but warned him “don’t ever come here again to take these kinds of photos,” according to the lawsuit.
“It has been very stressful since I was humiliated by the OPD officers,” Chavez said in an interview. “They should do their jobs and not interfere with ours as media members. These cops need to be re-educated. I don’t think they know what the First Amendment and freedom of the press means.”