Democracy Now! claims vindication in arrests settlement

Producers of the progressive pubradio/TV news program Democracy Now! are receiving $100,000 to settle their federal lawsuit against police authorities over their arrests while reporting on demonstrations outside the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Host Amy Goodman and producers Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous sued the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and the U.S. Secret Service for violating their constitutional rights to gather news independently and to be protected from unlawful search and seizure. In their 2010 suit, they also sought compensatory and punitive damages for medical expenses and damaged equipment.

In addition to the cash payment, the settlement includes an agreement by the city of St. Paul to create a police training program on First Amendment rights of the press and the public, and on media relations during demonstrations.

“The very important principle in this case is that the police can’t use their awesome powers to intimidate, harass and arrest journalists and citizens for observing political activities and reporting on police activity merely because the police are embarrassed or object to the images that these reporters are trying to convey to the public,” said Alexis Agathocleous of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in a news conference Oct. 3 in New York.

CCR teamed up with attorneys from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and Albert Goins of Minneapolis, who provided pro bono assistance to Democracy Now! on the case.

Salazaar and Abdel Kouddous were wearing press credentials while covering street protests outside the RNC convention hall in September 2008 when riot police corralled protesters into a parking lot. The pair continued recording video and audio of the roundup while shouting out to identify themselves as journalists, but officers rushed in to rough them up and arrest them. After hearing of their arrests, Goodman left the convention hall to plead for their release, but she was also taken into custody.

The Democracy Now! trio were among some 40 journalists and media-makers arrested while reporting on events outside the RNC, but videos of how police took them into custody went viral on YouTube,  fueling public objections to law enforcement tactics during the convention.

Authorities dropped charges against all the journalists who were arrested during RNC-related police sweeps, but Democracy Now! went on to contest the constitutionality of law enforcement’s actions.

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