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Democracy Now! Journalists Announce Major Settlement in Federal Lawsuit Challenging Police and U.S. Secret Service Crackdown on Media at 2008 Republican National Convention

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New York, NY. Monday, October 3, 2011—Today, award-winning journalist Amy Goodman announced that a final settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit brought by Goodman and Democracy Now! producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar against the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and the U.S. Secret Service, challenging the policies and conduct of law enforcement at the 2008 Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities. Goodman and her colleagues were unlawfully arrested and subject to excessive force while reporting on public protest and political dissent surrounding the convention.

"When journalists are arrested, it is not only a violation of the freedom the press, but of the public’s right to know," said Ms. Goodman. "When journalists are handcuffed and abused, so is democracy. We should not have to get a record when we put things on the record."

Filed last year on behalf of Democracy Now! by the Center for Constitutional Rights and pro bono attorneys Steven Reiss from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in New York and Albert Goins of Minneapolis, the federal lawsuit asserted that the government cannot, in the name of security, limit the flow of information by intimidating and arresting journalists who engaged in constitutionally protected reporting on speech protected by the First Amendment such as dissent or law enforcement activities.

The settlement includes compensation of $100,000 for the three journalists and an agreement by the St. Paul Police Department to implement a training program aimed at educating officers regarding the First Amendment rights of the press and public with respect to police operations — including police handling of media coverage of mass demonstrations — and to pursue implementation of the training program in Minneapolis and statewide.

CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy said, "CCR is proud to stand with the courageous journalists from Democracy Now! and dozens of other media organizations in their fight to ensure that the right of the press to document political events is preserved. This lawsuit sends an important message to police departments all over the country, especially ones responding to lawful demonstrations and political protests, that failure to respect the constitutional rights of citizens and journalists may expose municipalities to serious liability."

Ms. Salazar was filming a demonstration outside the Republican National Convention when riot police cornered her, forced her violently to the ground, bloodying her face, handcuffed her, and disabled her camera, all while ignoring her protests that she was a member of the press. Mr. Kouddous, who was also covering the protests, tried to come to Ms. Salazar’s aid by explaining to the police she and he were journalists; the police slammed him against the wall and repeatedly kicked him in the chest. Ms. Goodman, upon hearing that her colleagues were arrested, rushed to the scene from the convention floor and asked to speak with a supervising police officer. Without any lawful basis, police pulled Ms. Goodman over a police line and arrested her. All three journalists were detained for several hours. Mr. Kouddous was again unlawfully arrested three days later along with a large group of journalists. All charges against the journalists were later dropped. Videos of the violent arrests are available on CCR’s legal case page. Video of their arrests is also available at www.democracynow.org.

Steven Reiss of the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, which provided pro bono assistance on the case, added: "This resounding vindication of the right of journalists to gather news free from unconstitutional interference by the authorities is a victory for democracy. The lawyers at Weil are pleased that we helped achieve this important result."

Ms. Goodman added: "As we move into the next conventions and cover protests like Occupy Wall Street, this largest settlement to come out of the 2008 RNC arrests should be a warning to police departments around the country to stop arresting and intimidating journalists. We see the financial settlement and the requirement that the police departments receive First Amendment training on the rights of the press as a major step forward."

The legal team in the case included CCR Senior Staff Attorney Anjana Samant, Steven Reiss and Christine DiGuglielmo from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, based in New York, and Albert Goins of Minneapolis.

Click here to watch the original Democracy Now! video report of the Sept. 2, 2008 arrests

Click here to download a broadcast quality video of Monday’s press conference.

For more information on the case, visit CCR’s legal case page.

ABOUT DEMOCRACY NOW!
An independent, global, daily public TV/radio/internet news hour, Democracy Now! is hosted by award-winning journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. Democracy Now! is broadcast in English and in Spanish on more than 960 public television and radio stations around the world. Click here for more information.

ABOUT AMY GOODMAN
Amy Goodman is an award-winning investigative journalist, syndicated columnist, author and the host of Democracy Now! Goodman is the first journalist to receive the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize” for "developing an innovative model of truly independent grassroots political journalism that brings to millions of people the alternative voices that are often excluded by the mainstream media." The Independent of London named Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! "an inspiration"; pulsemedia.org placed Goodman at the top of their 20 Top Global Media Figures. Goodman is the author of four New York Times bestsellers. Her latest book, Breaking the Sound Barrier, proves the power of independent journalism in the struggle for a better world.

ABOUT CCR
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Rush transcript of press conference:

BAHER AZMY: We’re here to announce a landmark settlement in a case brought by three journalists from Democracy Now! against the Minneapolis, St. Paul Police Department and the United States Secret Service, arising from their unlawful and violent arrest of the Democracy Now! journalists while they were lawfully covering protests as part of the Republican National Convention in 2008. As part of this press conference, we’ll be hearing first from Steven Reiss, a partner at Weil Gotshal, who is, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, counsel to the plaintiffs in this case; then from Ms. Amy Goodman, one of the plaintiffs in this case; then from her colleague Sharif Abdel Kouddous, also one of the plaintiffs in this case; and then from my colleague Anjana Samant, who is a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Before I turn over the microphone, I want to just say that the Center for Constitutional Rights is proud to stand by these journalists and other journalists who stood up for a very important principle in this case, which is that the police cannot use their awesome powers to intimidate, harass and arrest journalists and citizens from observing a political activity 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.

So, we’ll hear from the speakers, and then we’ll take questions. Thank you. Mr. Reiss?

STEVEN REISS: Good afternoon. Steve Reiss from the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

There is a reason why freedom of the press—sorry, I’m sorry. There is a reason why freedom of the press is in the First Amendment, because without freedom of the press, there is no democracy. And that’s a lesson that applies not just abroad—and we’ve seen it many times in recent months abroad—it applies here, as well. And for freedom of the press to be vindicated, it takes journalists with the courage to vindicate those rights, and three of those journalists are here with you today.

They were arrested improperly for covering demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in 2008. They knew it was important to the press and to the functioning of democracy to show that those arrests were wrong, should be corrected and vindicated. And in a landmark settlement that was reached on Friday—I’m sorry, Thursday, with the Minneapolis and St. Paul Police Departments and with the United States Secret Service, these three plaintiffs will be paid $100,000 to vindicate their First Amendment rights to gather news unimpeded by unlawful arrest by the authorities.

And in addition—and I must say, much to their credit—the St. Paul Police Department has agreed to institute a training program with respect to police officers, to teach them about the First Amendment rights of reporters and the public, and to train police about how to properly respond to reporters covering demonstrations. The St. Paul police have also agreed to use their best efforts to get the Minneapolis police to adopt the same training program and to make this training program available to all Minnesota police officers. That agreement by the Minnesota and Minneapolis and St. Paul authorities is a landmark for protecting and furthering the First Amendment rights of reporters, because it says that the police will partner with the press in making sure the press is free to cover events unimpeded. So, for that reason, this is a landmark settlement.

Speaking from my law firm, we are honored to have represented Amy and Sharif and Nicole and to have worked with CCR in achieving this result. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you all for coming out. It is very important that we reached this settlement today with the St. Paul, Minneapolis, police and the U.S. Secret Service, to challenge how the authorities are dealing with press at public events.

On September 1st, 2008, my colleagues and I were covering the first day of the Republican convention in St. Paul. I was on the convention floor interviewing delegates. Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, Democracy Now! producers, were out on the streets covering the protests. I got a call on the convention floor that Sharif and Nicole had been arrested and had been injured. I raced to 7th and Jackson, the parking lot where I heard they were. The riot police had formed a line, had fully contained the area. I went up to them, asked to speak to a supervising officer to have my colleagues released. They were credentialed like I was, very clearly. I was wearing the top security credentials that allow me to interview presidents and vice presidents, congressmen and delegates, issued by the authorities. It wasn’t seconds before the police ripped me through the police line, twisted my arms back, slapped the handcuffs on, pushed me up against the wall and onto the ground. I was pleading with them not to arrest me, but that’s precisely what they did.

I was then brought over to Sharif Abdel Kouddous. His arm was bloodied. He was handcuffed. We were saying very clearly, "You must release us now. We are wearing our press credentials," whereupon the Secret Service came over, and they ripped the credentials from around our necks. I was then taken to the police van, where Nicole was, Nicole Salazar. She was handcuffed. Her face was bloodied. And she described quickly what happened. She said they had been covering the peaceful protests when I was covering the convention, that the riot police had moved quickly in on them. They were in a parking lot. She was backed against the parked cars, as they shouted, "On your face!" She filmed, but at the same time showed her press pass and shouted, "Press! Press!" They took her down from in front and behind, onto the ground, her face in the ground. They had a knee or boot in her back. They dragged her leg, which was bloodying, her face in the ground.

The first thing the police did was pull the battery out of her camera, if you were wondering what they wanted to stop happening. Nicole was doing her job. She was recording the public protest outside the conventions, which was supposed to be a celebration of democracy. Sharif was there. Sharif Abdel Kouddous, our senior producer, told the riot police to calm down. They pushed him up against the wall, kicked him twice in the chest, bloodied his arm. They face felony riot charges. I was arrested with a misdemeanor. They took me to the police garage, where the cages were erected for the protesters. Sharif and Nicole were taken off to jail.

We were held for hours, ultimately released because of the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people from around the country who responded to the video that was put up by independent reporters. The video of our arrest went viral, the most watched YouTube video the first two days of the convention. We believe that is what freed us: the response, the outrage of people around the country.

We were simply doing our jobs. It is our job not only to be on the convention floor, but to be covering the corporate suites, to find out who’s covering these conventions, who is sponsoring these conventions, and also to be in the streets, where the uninvited guests are, the thousands of people who also have something very important to say. Democracy is a messy thing, and it’s our job to capture it all, and we shouldn’t have to get a record when we try to put things on the record.

The settlement is extremely important. It is the largest settlement to come out of the Republican convention and what the police authorities did. We were not alone in our arrests. More than 40 reporters were arrested. Let this send a message to police departments around the country, as we move into the next conventions in Charlotte and Tampa, that the police must not violate our freedom to cover what is happening in the streets. It is not only a violation of freedom of the press, but a violation of the public’s right to know. And we are particularly gratified to have come out of this settlement with the training agreement on the part of the St. Paul Police Department, working with the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to come up with a training manual and a training process, so that the St. Paul police—and they will urge the Minneapolis police and the state police to do the same—will be trained in how to deal with reporters, not to engage in arrests of reporters or to engage in unlawful arrests at all.

I want to thank you all for coming, and thank the Center for Constitutional Rights, and thank Steven Reiss and the lawyers at Weil Gotshal, and Albert Goins of Minneapolis, our local lawyer there, for their tremendous work in helping us to achieve this settlement for freedom of the press in America today. Now my colleague, Democracy Now! senior producer, and now correspondent, Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Thank you.

Amy described—excuse me, Amy described our arrests pretty well. I just want to say why we brought this lawsuit. The reason we brought this lawsuit is because we want to stop police acting with impunity, arresting journalists in covering demonstrations. This is a right that is enshrined in the Constitution.

I flew in for the settlement conference from Cairo, Egypt, where I live right now. I grew up in Cairo, and I have lived there since the revolution. The way we lived in Cairo for many decades was under a police state. And what that means is, is that the police rule the state. And so, in demonstrations in Egypt, what would happen is the police would come in, they would beat protesters, they would arrest journalists, they would get sent to jail, and many would have long-term prison sentences. That all changed on January 25th, when people took to the streets in a revolution, and they beat back the police, and they went into Tahrir Square and started a sit-in that ended after 18 days with the autocrat, a 30-year autocrat, Hosni Mubarak, leaving power. That sit-in has in some ways inspired street demonstrations around the world, including this one, where we are speaking to you right here, this Occupy Wall Street demonstration.

We have seen the police again act with the same kind of impunity that they acted in 2008. They have [pepper-sprayed] peaceful protesters. They arrested 700 protesters on Saturday, [one of] the largest mass arrest in U.S. history. We hope that this settlement, both the financial settlement and the training that the St. Paul police, and hopefully Minneapolis police and statewide, will have to undergo, learning how to treat journalists covering demonstrations and also citizens covering demonstrations, as well, that they cannot act with this kind of impunity, that there is some kind of punishment that will eventually come.

I want to thank you all for coming with us, and I want to thank very much our attorneys in this case.

REPORTER: I’m sorry, your name again?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

REPORTER: And spell it, please.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: It’s—I’ll give you a press release.

REPORTER: All right. Thank you.

ANJANA SAMANT: Hello, everyone. My name is Anjana Samant. I’m the attorney from Center for Constitutional Rights. I also worked on this case. I just want add that, you know, in recent years, we’ve seen a resurgence, a resurgence of public protest, of social activism. In moments like these, today, it’s no coincidence that we’re standing here today and holding this press conference where Occupy Wall Street has been going on.

Journalists serve a vital function. Not all of us can be here. Not all of us can be on the front lines of a protest. Not all of us can be in Washington, D.C., when people stand outside the Supreme Court or outside the White House or outside Congress to voice their opinion and exercise a true grassroots democracy. Journalists and everyone who exercises their right to speak, their right to dissent, their right to document what the government is doing and spread that information, serve an absolutely vital function in our society.

The settlement in this case is a great reminder and an excellent victory not just for journalists, but also for the public and the Constitution. We have to make sure that we can exercise these rights, that the police do not engage in a preemptive arrests, that the police do not overstep their authority when they’re exercising their powers. We need to make sure that as these protests, as the presidential conventions next year happen, as movements like the one we’re in—standing in the middle of today continue, that these voices get disseminated across the country. The First Amendment does not only allow embedded reporters. The First Amendment does not only allow the government to sanction and permit one viewpoint. It has to allow every camera and every voice and every journalist to speak without any kind of censorship or repression.

So, we thank you very much, and I believe we’ll take questions at this time.

REPORTER: Amy, Sharif, how has this changed how you guys are going to take—addressing issues in the future?

AMY GOODMAN: The question was, how will this change how we cover events in the future?

This will not change how we cover events in the future. But I hope it will change how police deal with these public protests in the future. Over the last few weeks here in New York, we’ve seen protesters unlawfully arrested, journalists arrested, and also journalists told to turn off their cameras, to stop filming. This is unacceptable. Journalists protect a democracy. There’s a reason why our profession, journalism, is the only one explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution: because we are supposed to be the check and balance on power. Yes?

REPORTER: Could you tell us a little about the significance of having this event here in Zuccotti Park?

AMY GOODMAN: We are covering the protest here at Occupy Wall Street. Democracy Now! is covering this Occupy Wall Street encampment daily on Democracy Now! It is these kinds of public protests, these shows of public dissent, where so often the police crack down, as we have seen, with one of the largest mass arrests of protesters in the history of this country just this past weekend. It is absolutely critical that we be able to cover these protests, that journalists be able to do their job. It protects all of us, not only journalists, but the protesters and the police, as well. Journalism is essential to the functioning of a democratic society.

Any other questions?

REPORTER: At any point, did you get to address your arresting officers? Sharif?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The question was, at any point, did we get to question our arresting officers? We repeatedly—both Amy, Nicole and myself—told our officers that we were journalists, that we should be let go. These pleas were ignored. And as Amy explained, in fact, a Secret Service agent came and tore, ripped our press badges from around our necks. So, that was the response to us as being journalists, the response of the security officials.

AMY GOODMAN: One more thing. Sharif was not arrested once. He was arrested twice: the first day of the convention and the last day. And we were not the only ones arrested. More than 40 journalists were arrested at the Republican convention.

REPORTER: Is the Secret Service paying part of the $100,000 and/or have they acknowledged improper conduct in any other way?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Do you want to answer that, Steven?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, the Secret Service are paying a part of this settlement, for ripping our credentials off of us.

STEVEN REISS: As is typical in settlements, no one is explicitly acknowledging that they did something wrong. But—the big "but" here is that the Minneapolis, St. Paul Police Departments are all—and the, hopefully, all the police officers in Minnesota—are going to engage in a training to better make their police sensitive to the rights of journalists. That training program is the best acknowledgment of the importance of these rights. And it’s the best acknowledgment that the police have to be sensitive to the rights. So that is—actions speak much louder than words in this context. The actions of the St. Paul Police Department, and hopefully the Minneapolis Police Department, as well, speak louder than any words that they could utter.

REPORTER: The Secret Service, do you know how much of this settlement the Secret Service is paying, and have they adapted any new training programs? Have they disciplined the officers and the Secret Service agents involved?

STEVEN REISS: Well, understand that the Secret Service’s involvement here was really limited. And first of all, the Secret Service are not engaged in day-to-day policing functions. The Secret Service was involved at the Republican National Convention, because it had been designated a national security event. And the Secret Service was brought into this lawsuit, because we discovered that it was a Secret Service agent, not a police officer, that ripped the press credentials from Amy and Sharif. For that single action, in taking their press credentials, the Secret Service was brought into this, and the U.S. government is paying part of the settlement.

REPORTER: Do you know how much?

STEVEN REISS: We do know how much.

REPORTER: Can you tell me how much?

STEVEN REISS: Yes, the Secret Service is paying—the federal government, on behalf of the Secret Service, is paying $10,000.

REPORTER: Ten thousand.


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