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Los Angeles set to pay $300,000 over police photos in media freedom case

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The city of Los Angeles settled a lawsuit by agreeing to pay $300,000 in legal fees for freelance journalist Ben Camacho and the watchdog group Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. Many court watchers viewed the case as a matter of media freedom.

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Last year, the city sued Camacho and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. The two parties published photos of undercover Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers, which triggered the lawsuit.

The city provided the photos to Camacho after a public records request. Camacho asked for information on LAPD officers, including photographs, names, ranks and badge numbers.

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The city handed over the requested information, including details for undercover officers. Camacho and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition published the photos and identifying data on a website called “Watch the Watchers.” This searchable database allows viewers to look up LAPD officers using their names or badge numbers.

The Los Angeles city attorney then sued, attempting to retrieve the photos and have them taken down from the site. The city claimed that the photos revealed officers serving in sensitive roles and were released to Camacho accidentally.

Over 300 LAPD officers subsequently sued the city, citing that the released photos jeopardized their safety and that of their families.

Attorneys representing Camacho and the activists sought to have the case dismissed. In August, a judge allowed the city’s lawsuit to proceed, stating that the published photos could indeed threaten officers’ safety.

Media advocacy groups swiftly denounced the city’s lawsuit and filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Camacho and the activists.

Notably, in 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in the “Pentagon Papers” case that news outlets can publish classified information if they lawfully obtain it. This places the responsibility on the government, not journalists, when deciding what information should be made public.

The Los Angeles City Council must approve the $300,000 settlement.

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[LAUREN TAYLOR]

THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES HAS AGREED TO PAY THREE-HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS TO COVER LEGAL FEES FOR A JOURNALIST AND GROUP OF ACTIVISTS TO SETTLE A SUIT THAT MANY COURT WATCHERS VIEWED AS CASE OVER MEDIA FREEDOM.

LAST YEAR – THE CITY SUED ‘KNOCK L-A’ JOURNALIST BEN CAMACHO – ALONG WITH THE WATCHDOG GROUP ‘STOP LAPD SPYING COALITION’ – FOR PUBLISHING PHOTOS OF UNDERCOVER LAPD OFFICERS  — PHOTOS THE CITY HAD GIVEN CAMACHO AFTER A PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST.

CAMACHO HAD REQUESTED INFORMATION ON LAPD OFFICERS – SUCH AS PHOTOGRAPHS, NAME, RANK, AND BADGE NUMBER, AMONG OTHER ATTRIBUTES.

THE CITY HANDED OVER THE REQUESTED INFORMATION — AND DID NOT EXEMPT THE UNDER-COVER OFFICERS.

CAMACHO AND ‘STOP LAPD SPYING’ COALITION PUBLISHED THE PHOTOS AND IDENTIFYING DATA ON A WEBSITE CALLED ‘WATCH THE WATCHERS’ – A SEARCHABLE DATABASE IN WHICH VIEWERS CAN LOOK UP LAPD OFFICERS USING THEIR NAME OR BADGE NUMBER.

THE LOS ANGELES CITY ATTORNEY SUED – ATTEMPTING TO GET THE PHOTOS BACK AND TAKEN DOWN FROM SITE — CLAIMING THEY SHOWED OFFICERS SERVING IN SENSITIVE ROLES AND WERE RELEASED TO CAMACHO ACCIDENTALLY. 

MORE THAN 300 OF THOSE LAPD OFFICERS SUED THE CITY FOR RELEASING THE PHOTOS AND PERSONAL INFORMATION – CITING THE RELEASED PHOTOS PUT THEM AND THEIR FAMILIES IN HARM’S WAY.

ATTORNEYS REPRESENTING CAMACHO AND ‘STOP LAPD SPYING’ WANTED THE CASE DISMISSED, HOWEVER – IN AUGUST — A JUDGE ALLOWED THE CITY’S LAWSUIT TO PROCEED SAYING THE CITY WAS LIKELY TO WIN BECAUSE THE PUBLISHED PHOTOS COULD THREATEN OFFICERS’ SAFETY.

MEDIA ADVOCACY GROUPS QUICKLY DENOUNCED THE CITY’S LAWSUIT – AND FILED FRIEND OF THE COURT BRIEFS THROWING THEIR SUPPORT BEHIND CAMACHO AND THE ACTIVISTS.

IN 1971 — THE SUPREME COURT RULED IN THE “PENTAGON PAPERS” CASE THAT NEWS OUTLETS CAN PUBLISH CLASSIFIED INFORMATION IF THEY LAWFULLY GET THEIR HANDS ON IT.

MEANING – IF THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT WANT CERTAIN INFORMATION TO BE MADE PUBLIC – THE ONUS IS ON THE GOVERNMENT – NOT JOURNALISTS.

THE LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCIL MUST APPROVE THE $300-THOUSAND DOLLAR SETTLEMENT.

FOR STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS, I’M LAUREN TAYLOR…

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