Two journalists from the website Knock LA sued the Los Angeles Police Department Monday for alleged civil rights violations stemming from their arrests while covering the removal of a homeless encampment at Echo Park Lake last year.
Jon Peltz and Kate Gallagher contend that their March 2021 arrests for alleged failure to disperse violated their constitutional rights and a California law protecting journalists, according to the complaint filed in L.A. federal court.
An LAPD spokesperson said the department does not comment on pending litigation.
At least a dozen journalists were reportedly arrested or detained while documenting demonstrations near the lake.
“Unlawful arrests and police brutality against journalists are both a local and a national problem,” said Shaleen Shanbhag, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “Since 2020, police have assaulted journalists across the country more than 600 times and made more than 200 arrests of journalists — most of the arrests in 2021 and 2022 coming during coverage of police evicting unhoused people from their encampments. This horrific behavior must stop, and we intend to have a jury hold the LAPD accountable.”
A clash between homeless advocates and police who were attempting to evict less than 20 people who had not left the park resulted in 179 arrests, including several members of the press, it was reported.
The lawsuit alleges that Peltz and Gallagher were arrested without probable cause while “lawfully and peacefully observing, newsgathering, reporting live, videotaping and photographing a public protest and related police activity from a public sidewalk.”
The pair were taken into custody “despite clearly identifying themselves as journalists and being surrounded by other journalists engaged in similar conduct,” the suit contends.
L.A. City Attorney Michael Feuer declined to press charges against the plaintiffs, according to the lawsuit.
“A free press is crucial for holding public agencies like the LAPD accountable,” Gallagher said in a statement. “The police should not be allowed to arrest journalists for reporting on a protest against their department’s own conduct.”
The complaint states that on the night of March 25, 2021, most reporters — including Peltz and Gallagher — ignored the LAPD’s directive to move to a designated media viewing area because it provided no view of the protesters or officers preparing to evict dozens of people living in tents around Echo Park Lake.
Officers issued a dispersal order to protesters and reporters standing on Lemoyne Street about 150 feet from the lake, but then “immediately trapped and arrested protesters” and the two Knock LA reporters, the plaintiffs allege.
The lawsuit alleges that the LAPD has “a longstanding policy, custom and practice of obstructing, targeting and retaliating against members of the press for exercising their First Amendment rights to gather news regarding police officer activity in public places, particularly during protests against police brutality.”
Knock LA is a nonprofit, independent news website which focuses on alleged misconduct by law enforcement and local government, according to the company.