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Prosecutor’s office must correct investigative findings on Asbury Park officers’ arrest of journalist

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Reporters Committee resources do not support conclusion that officers couldn’t reasonably know reporter wasn’t a protester

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is calling for a New Jersey county prosecutor’s office to publicly clarify that Reporters Committee resources do not support the findings from an investigation into the arrest of reporter Gustavo Martínez Contreras.

Law enforcement officers tackled and arrested Martínez Contreras, who is a reporter for the Asbury Park Press, and slapped his phone out of his hand while he was live streaming the violent arrest of two teenagers at a June 1 protest that was part of the nationwide demonstrations demanding justice, an end to violence against Black Americans and greater police accountability. An investigation into the arrest improperly cited Reporters Committee resources in concluding that the arresting officers did not know they were apprehending a reporter.

In a letter sent today to Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni, Reporters Committee attorneys note that the guide and tip sheet investigators cited in their findings only detail practical safety tips for reporters covering protests — not the legal standard for when officers should know someone is a journalist. The letter asks the prosecutor’s office to both update its investigative findings and issue a statement clarifying that the Reporters Committee’s resources do not support the conclusion that officers could have believed Contreras was a protester.

“Reporters Committee resources are intended to help journalists stay safe while covering protests, and it’s improper for the prosecutor’s office to use them to conclude officers acted reasonably under the law when arresting Gustavo Martínez Contreras,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “Our resources don’t support the finding that a reasonable officer wouldn’t have known Mr. Martínez Contreras was a journalist. Both his account of the incident and the investigation’s findings illustrate that he identified himself as a journalist, and was complying with law enforcement’s orders while displaying his press credentials, when officers tackled and arrested him.

“Arrests of journalists are particularly egregious violations of the First Amendment, as they don’t just chill reporting, they shut it down entirely. We urge the prosecutor’s office to clarify that the Reporters Committee’s guide and tip sheet do not support its conclusions.”

Read the full letter to the Monmouth County prosecutor’s office.

The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.