CPJ and others request meeting with Sacramento police over treatment of journalists at protest

Chief Daniel Hahn
Sacramento Police Department
5770 Freeport Blvd., Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95822

March 18, 2019

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Via email: dhahn@pd.cityofsacramento.org

Dear Chief Daniel Hahn,

We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom advocacy group, along with the organizations listed below, write to express our concern about police conduct toward journalists covering protests in Sacramento on the night of March 4, 2019, and to request a meeting between your office and a delegation of press freedom groups.

We are pleased that the police have already taken some steps to respond to public criticism of the arrest of three journalists on March 4, and we hope to meet to pursue a constructive dialogue on how arrests of journalists covering protests can be avoided in the future.

According to news reports, Sacramento police swept up three reporters, Sacramento Bee reporter Dale Kasler, Sacramento Business Journal reporter Scott Rodd, and Sacramento State University student journalist William Coburn, in a mass arrest of 84 individuals, after issuing a dispersal order. The journalists were attempting to leave the scene when they were arrested, according to those reports.

Kasler was handcuffed and detained for over an hour before Mayor Steinberg personally intervened to secure his release. As Kasler later recounted in a columnfor the Bee, he identified himself as a journalist immediately before his arrest, holding up his press badge. Coburn wrote that he repeatedly shouted “press, press” before he was arrested as well. Rodd told CPJ that he was wearing a shirt that identified him as a member of the press and had his credentials displayed on his hat. Both Rodd and Coburn told CPJ that they were handcuffed for over four hours before being cited by Sacramento police for failure to disperse, a misdemeanor.

It appears that at the end of the evening, at the conclusion of a largely peaceful protest, the Sacramento police deployed the crowd control tactic known as “kettling,” whereby police encircle a group to prevent any exit before advancing, and then proceed with indiscriminate detentions and arrests. CPJ has documented how this tactic poses a threat to journalists doing their jobs covering a protest. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the vast majority of journalists arrested in the United States are detained during kettling procedures.

Despite the prevalence of kettling, it is unacceptable to arrest journalists as they are working to cover a newsworthy event, such as a protest, and are not breaking the law. Journalists should never be detained and charged by law enforcement officials simply for doing their jobs, reporting the news to the public.

We were relieved to hear that the district attorney has decided not to pursue charges against the journalists, and we are pleased to read that both you and city officials have ordered investigations into the arrests that evening. Also, we are heartened to hear from reporters in Sacramento that police have already met with local media and have announced some changes to how journalists will be treated in future protests.

Going forward, we urge you to address this situation comprehensively, and we make the following recommendations for the Sacramento Police Department

  • Meet with press freedom groups, and take into account their input as the investigation proceeds, and as policies are reworked;
  • Review the department’s policies on kettling and any policies dealing with media in protests, and investigate the extent to which current department policy was followed on March 4;
  • Make public the results of the ongoing investigation in full; and
  • Take proactive steps, such as increased training for officers on First Amendment issues.

It is important that Sacramento police safeguard the rights of journalists, especially given that the city is the seat of government power in California. We hope to engage with you in a constructive dialogue that will be productive for all sides–your department, the city, and the journalists who are working to keep the citizens of Sacramento informed.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Alexandra Ellerbeck
North America Program Coordinator
Committee to Protect Journalists

Alex Tarquinio
President
Society of Professional Journalists

Dan Shelley
Executive Director
Radio Television Digital News Association

David Snyder
Executive Director
First Amendment Coalition

Katie Townsend
Legal Director
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Michael P. King
President
National Press Photographers Association

Sabine Dolan
Interim Executive Director for North America
Reporters Without Borders

Trevor Timm
Executive Director
Freedom of the Press Foundation

CC:
Mayor Darrell Steinberg
Vice Mayor Eric Guerra
Councilmember Angelique Ashby
Councilmember Allen Warren
Councilmember Jeff Harris
Councilmember Steve Hansen
Councilmember Jay Schenirer
Councilmember Rick Jennings, II
Councilmember Larry Carr