Reporters Committee Hotline provides free 24-hour legal aid
to journalists covering the 2016 Democratic National Convention
- Anyone arrested at convention-related events for typical misdemeanor offenses will be given a citation near the scene of arrest and released, according to police.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has arranged with the media law firm of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP to coordinate pro bono legal assistance to any journalists covering the 2016 Democratic National Convention through a 24-hour hotline. Volunteer attorneys will be available to advise reporters who are arrested or experience other problems with law enforcement while covering the convention, the political protests or related events.
The hotline will be in operation from Sunday, July 24, 2016, through the end of the convention. The main phone number is 215-988-9782. You may also call the regular hotline operated by the Reporters Committee by calling 800-336-4243, emailing email@example.com or tweeting @rcfp. Gayle Sproul will be coordinating calls for Levine Sullivan, along with firm attorneys Mike Berry (215-988-9773), Paul Safier (215-988-9146) and Lizze Seidlin-Bernstein (215-988-9774). Gregg Leslie will be monitoring the hotline for the Reporters Committee.
We will also be coordinating activities with other groups monitoring convention events, including the National Press Photographers Association, The National Lawyers Guild, and the ACLU.
BE PREPARED. Disturbances occurring at political conventions in the past sometimes have resulted in mass arrests during which reporters and photographers have been taken into custody. The Reporters Committee’s hotline will help journalists who encounter legal issues while covering demonstrations and other events occurring in and around Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention. This flier provides guidelines to follow in the event of a disturbance and provides our best information at the time it was prepared. This information is subject to change; for the most recent version, go to www.rcfp.org/conventions
We always recommend that journalists carry two forms of identification: (1) your convention credential, any police-issued press pass or other documentation (such as police-issued press passes from prior events or your employer-issued I.D.) of your status as a professional journalist, and (2) a government-issued photo identification card like a driver’s license.
It is always helpful to make it visually obvious you are a member of the press. Any journalist wearing a helmet, hat or headband during a protest should have the word “PRESS” prominently displayed on the item itself, or directly on a shirt. This doesn’t confer any special legal status, but could help you avoid arrest if an officer would otherwise assume you’re a protester. If an event becomes the subject of law enforcement activity, the best way to avoid being arrested is to report on those activities in a manner that does not obstruct the law enforcement activity, and to follow all police orders. Do not walk through a police line without first showing your press pass and obtaining permission.
POLICE INFORMATION. The Secret Service, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Philadelphia Police Department, and many other law enforcement agencies will all have a presence in and around convention-related locations, including the Wells Fargo Center, other convention sites and the designated parade route and demonstration sites. In the event of any incident between the media and the police, you should immediately call the hotline. We should be able to reach officials in the Joint Information Center, where representatives of the city, Secret Service and police departments will be located.
ACCESS. Access to the Wells Fargo Center and other convention-related sites, and particular areas within those sites, will be highly regulated. DNC-issued credentials are required to enter the convention sites. Do not expect to be permitted to enter any areas inside or in the vicinity of the convention sites or elsewhere that are closed by police for security reasons. And, again, do not walk through a police line without first showing your press pass and obtaining permission. Press credentials other than those issued by the DNC, e.g., those issued by a city police department or city or state press association or other event, may be recognized in some places but not others. The City of Philadelphia has no plans to issue press credentials for the event.
DETENTION, ARREST & RELEASE. In the event police detain you during a disturbance, remain calm and obey instructions. In addition, (1) notify the arresting officer that you are a news reporter and show your credentials; (2) ask that a supervisor or captain be notified that a reporter is being detained; and (3) seek permission to call the hotline attorney at your earliest opportunity. Local law enforcement agencies have advised their officers not to interfere with working journalists, provided the journalists do not commit separate infractions or interfere with police operations or safety. Identifying yourself as a news reporter may reduce the likelihood of arrest, and may facilitate your release if you are caught up in a mass arrest. If you are covering the activities of a crowd that invites arrest and want to avoid being arrested along with them, move to the periphery of the activity so you can readily detach yourself should that prove necessary.
Philadelphia police have announced that they do not intend to detain anyone (whether protesters, media or anyone else) on misdemeanor charges like failure to disperse, failure to obey a lawful order, or unlawful assembly. They have described this as a three-tiered arrest process:
(1) If you are detained for a typical misdemeanor charge like failure to disperse and you have a government-issued photo ID like a driver’s license, you will be detained at a nearby facility only as long as it takes to give you a citation for that offense, and then you will be released. You will not be taken away to another facility, but processed at a temporary location near the Wells Fargo Center or other convention-related site (the exact location of which had not been established as of 7/13). You will be free to return to the convention site, protests or parades when you have received your citation. The citation can be either paid later for $50, or challenged, which will cost $100 if your challenge is not successful.
(2) If you are detained for a more serious charge like assault or any felony — or if a background check shows you have any outstanding warrants — you will be processed through the normal Philadelphia jail and court system. This means you will likely be transported to a location a few miles north of the convention site and held longer. The lawyers with this hotline will try to help reporters get a hearing or post bail if necessary.
(3) If you don’t have or refuse to show a government-issued I.D., police will hold you until you can be fingerprinted and positively identified, a process that can take several hours. If you were detained on one of the less-serious charges mentioned above, you will then be released and free to return to the protest and parade sites.
Police have also announced that they do not intend to use tear gas, and thus gas masks are not prohibited. (Masks are prohibited in Cleveland for the RNC and were at both conventions four years ago.)
You should cooperate in giving your name, address, and other basic identifying information, but remember that other statements you make can and will be used against you in later proceedings.
If you need assistance with subsequent court appearances, attorneys with the Reporters Committee and Levine Sullivan will assist you in finding legal counsel in Philadelphia, but representation at any future court dates is not part of the free hotline service.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION. When calling the hotline, please identify yourself as a journalist and state that you are calling the hotline. If you are taken into custody and unable to call the hotline, try to inform a colleague, employer or somebody else to contact the hotline on your behalf. You should call the hotline at your earliest opportunity thereafter, however.
The hotline should not be used for disputes over credentials or problems unrelated to your news coverage of the convention. You may call the Reporters Committee’s regular hotline, 800-336-4243, if you have other credentialing or access issues.
Hospitals: If you’re worried that someone has been taken to a hospital, the nearest hospitals to check are:
· Hahnemann University Hospital, 215-762-7000, Broad & Vine
· Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, 1-800-789-7366, 3400 Spruce Street
· Methodist Hospital Division Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, 215-952-9000, 2301 S. Broad Street
· Pennsylvania Hospital, 215-829-3000, 800 Spruce Street
· Presbyterian Medical Center, 215-662-8000, 39th & Market Streets
· Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, 1-800-JEFF-NOW & 215-955-6000, 11th & Walnut Streets
If you have any questions or comments about the hotline, contact Gayle Sproul of Levine Sullivan at 215-988-9782, or Gregg Leslie, Legal Defense Director of the Reporters Committee, at 202-795-9302.