UC Regents Give Local Photojournalist David Morse $162K in Settlement

Categories: Lawsuit
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It's not like U.C. brass has a bunch of extra money lying around.
University of California Regents, in a civil rights lawsuit settlement agreement announced today, will pay $162,500 to David Morse, an independent photojournalist who was arrested by UC Berkeley police while covering a student demonstration more than two years ago.

In that demonstration, on Dec. 11, 2009, protesters had gathered in front of Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's house to speak out against state funding cuts and fee increases. Morse was snapping shots for for Indybay. The event eventually grew rowdy and some students began vandalizing the home, breaking lights, windows, and plant pots. Most of the students left when the police car approached, but Morse stayed to take more pictures.

He identified himself as a journalist and offered to show his credentials. Still, officers arrested him and took him to Santa Rita County Jail (eight other students were arrested). They seized his camera, in order to identify people in the protest.

Morse was charged with attempted arson of an inhabited structure, vandalism, participation in a riot, attempted burglary, threatening a university official, and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon against a police officer. He spent that night in jail.

However, those charges were dropped at his first court appearance. His legal team claimed, in a 2010 statement, that the police had slapped Morse with the charges "in order to buy themselves time to prepare a misleading search warrant affidavit" to access to the camera.

In June 2010, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled that the police department had illegally searched Morse's camera and had to return all copies of his photos. California law states that a subpoena, not a search warrant, is necessary to obtain unpublished journalistic material.

According to a statement by Morse's lawyers, "When UCBPD returned the photographs, one had been deleted from the memory disc: the last photograph showing the approaching police car."

Morse filed the civil rights lawsuit in December 2010. He charged that the department infringed upon his rights and violated a federal law prohibiting the use of search warrants to get unpublished journalistic material.

As part of today's settlement, the Regents agreed to revise its policies on journalist protections and require that all UC Berkeley officers attend training on these procedures.

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