Journalist settles with city of Pittsburgh over wrongful arrest during G-20 summit in 2009

Amanda Simmons | Newsgathering | News | July 31, 2012

The city of Pittsburgh settled a federal lawsuit with a journalist who claimed he was arrested and wrongfully detained under harsh conditions for 12 hours after covering protests of the Group of 20 economic summit three years ago.

Although neither party's attorneys would comment on the specific terms of the settlement, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last week that the city and its insurer, which provided coverage during the summit and will partially pay the damages, agreed to pay the reporter $27,500 without admitting any wrongdoing in the arrest.

Reporter Robert Dew was filming and interviewing protestors outside the 2009 G-20 Summit for Free Speech Systems, LLC, the Texas-based parent company of online news provider Infowars.com, when Pittsburgh police handcuffed him despite taking note of his visible press pass. During his overnight detainment, Dew was forced to sit outside in rainy weather and was never notified of any charges against him, according to his initial complaint.

“Such arrest of journalists is incompatible and antithetical to a free society with a free and vigilant press, serving to chill both free speech and free press activities,” wrote Dew’s attorney, Elmer Steward Rhodes III, in the complaint.

After subsequent charges of failure to disperse and disorderly conduct were dropped, Dew sued the city of Pittsburgh, along with key law enforcement officials, in the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh in 2011. Based on a joint motion for an out-of-court settlement submitted by both parties, U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer dismissed the case on July 19.

"The city of Pittsburgh had an insurance carrier, and the carrier negotiated the settlement, and we consented to their decision to settle," said John F. Doherty, an attorney for the city. "It's a business transaction. It happens everyday."

The lawsuit noted that when Dew, who lives in Austin, Texas, and was in Pennsylvania on assignment, was told by police to put away his video camera, he did so without turning off the device, which continued to audio record his conversations with law enforcement officers. According to the complaint, an officer in full riot gear looked at the press pass Dew wore around his neck and said, “no, not press, not at all.”

He “at no time did anything other than act as a professional journalist lawfully engaged in First Amendment protected free speech and press activity,” stated the complaint. “The arrest, detention, and imprisonment of Mr. Dew while acting as a journalist amounted to retaliation for exercise of constitutionally protected First Amendment rights and false arrest and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

Rhodes said that the terms of his client's settlement with the city of Pittsburgh prohibited him from commenting on the agreement.