Attorneys representing a student journalist from Cal State Long Beach, whose equipment MPs reportedly took away when he was arrested during a protest, are demanding the sheriff’s department return the items.
Pablo Unzueta, a freelance reporter who also works for the University’s Daily 49er, reported on a protest on September 8 when he was arrested on suspicion of non-resolution after the demonstration was declared an illegal gathering. 4 open letter to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Unzueta’s cell phone and camera were confiscated and not returned when he was released, the letter said.
The letter asks the sheriff’s department to return the equipment to ensure the sheriff’s department won’t file a lawsuit against Unzueta with the Los Angeles District Attorney, a copy of the arrest report, a apology from the department, and an investigation as if that MPs may have used their own cell phones to take photos of those arrested that night.
The sheriff’s department did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Inmate records confirm that Unzueta, 26, was arrested on September 8 at around 9:20 p.m. on suspicion of a misdemeanor. He was released on bail at around 10 a.m. the next day and cited, according to records.
He was not charged with a crime, according to court records.
After reaching out to the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit that connects student journalists with legal resources, Unzueta will be represented by lawyers from UC Irvine’s School of Law of Intellectual Property, Art and Technology, said Susan Seager, attorney for the Clinic. The clinic was able to help Unzueta get his camera back, but not the memory card and cell phone, she said.
“The sheriff’s department claims there was no memory card in the camera,” Seager said in an interview on Tuesday. “But that’s kind of impossible because Pablo was out there to photograph the protest.”
Seager said it was difficult for the memory card to accidentally fall out of the camera because someone would have to push the back door of the camera to open it and then push a spring to pull the memory card out. Unzueta was also unable to get a copy of his arrest report, she said.
The protest reported by Unzueta at the time concerned the death of Dijon Kizze, who was fatally shot by MPs about a week before the protest. About 175 protesters gathered outside the sheriff’s station in south Los Angeles for a demonstration that was declared illegal after protesters began throwing stones and bottles at MPs, a sheriff department spokesman said at the time.
Six people were arrested that evening on suspicion of non-scattering, the spokesman said.
Unzueta, who identified himself as a journalist and carried a press ID from his previous school, Mt. San Antonio College was on his way to his car when he was taken into custody, the letter said. He was placed in a van that burst into pepper balls, which burst on impact and, according to the letter, sent the spray to his face, eyes and mouth.
“I think this seems to be part of a national trend,” said Seager, “where police officers seem hostile to reporters and arrest them and spray them with pepper spray.”
The sheriff’s department did not respond to the letter, according to Seager. If the department doesn’t meet the requirements of the letter, Seager said attorneys will consider filing a lawsuit.