LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has declined to file a case against a reporter pinned to the ground, handcuffed and taken into custody by sheriff's deputies while covering the arrest of a demonstrator.
Prosecutors cited insufficient evidence against Josie Huang of KPCC and LAist, noting that it “does not appear that she was intentionally attempting to interfere with the deputies.'' Prosecutors said she also was “not given the opportunity to comply with their demand'' to back up on Sept. 13 outside St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood, where the two wounded deputies were being treated after being shot while sitting in a patrol SUV in Compton.
“It also appears that at least one deputy heard her say she was a reporter because he can be heard to say, 'Do what you're told if you're a reporter,''' prosecutors wrote in the charge evaluation worksheet. “Ms. Huang was in a public area filming a protest.''
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department claimed Huang didn't have proper media credentials, failed to properly identify herself as a reporter and was “interfering with a lawful arrest'' of one of the protesters.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva later doubled down on that contention, saying Huang got “right up on the shoulder'' of a deputy trying to make an arrest, and calling her actions more “activism'' than journalism.
Video from Huang's cellphone subsequently surfaced, showing her repeatedly identifying herself as a reporter, shouting “KPCC,'' and saying, “You're hurting me'' and crying out in apparent pain.
On Thursday, the sheriff's department issued a statement on Huang's arrest and their reaction to the declination of charges issues by the District Attorney's office
“The Los Angeles County Sheriff*s Department values the media and highly respects the freedom of the press. We are advocates of responsible reporting and strongly believe in transparency,'' the LASD said.
“With regard to the obstruction arrest of Ms. Josie Huang, it is unfortunate this incident took place during a time in which our focus was on the horrific attempted assassination of two of our deputies. The events during that time were very tense and rapidly evolving. At that same time, our personnel were dealing with protesters who were blocking the driveway to the hospital emergency room and chanting for our wounded deputies to die, which could also be heard by their family members,'' the statement continued.
“Unfortunately, Ms. Huang inserted herself too close to the highly charged situation as an arrest was being made. This case was investigated and all the elements of the crime were present. The case was presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and they ultimately declined to prosecute. This is not uncommon, as they must weigh many factors into their decision.
“An internal investigation was opened in this matter and appropriate administrative action will be taken.''
Huang tweeted Thursday night: “So very grateful for all the support bestowed on me as a reporter. Also ... the 1st Amendment means all of us, not just journalists at recognized news orgs, have the rights of free speech and assembly.''
Inspector General Max Huntsman -- who is investigating Huang's arrest - - has said he is still waiting to receive materials from the sheriff's department to conduct a more thorough probe. However, he questioned the veracity of statements by Villanueva and the department about the arrest.
“Unfortunately, all evidence we have currently gathered suggests that significant parts of the claims made by the (sheriff's) department may have been false,'' Huntsman told the Civilian Oversight Commission.
“The information we have gathered is preliminary and not intended to substitute for a complete investigation.''
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press -- a coalition of 64 media organizations -- also called on the sheriff's department to drop the citation it issued to Huang, who spent about five hours in custody.
The group echoed concerns expressed by other media groups that have disputed Villanueva's version of the arrest, and called on the department “to take immediate steps to prevent another incident like the arrest of (Huang).''
The letter from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press accused deputies of violating Huang's constitutional rights.
“The right to record police activity in public is clearly established, and an officer who violates that First Amendment freedom -- especially through the use of force -- enjoys no legal immunity,'' the group said in its letter.
“Based on multiple recordings of the incident, it appears that the Department's arrest of Ms. Huang violated these clearly established First Amendment rights.''
The Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wrote a letter to Huntsman last week asking that his office make public all information it gathers in the investigation.
“The department's treatment of Huang threatens to have a chilling effect on journalists across the county. We cannot overstate the importance of a thorough investigation by your office,'' chapter president David Zahniser wrote.