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In a resolution that sets a new benchmark for reporters injured by law enforcement, Josie Huang — a reporter for NPR member station LAist 89.3, formerly known as KPCC — reached a $700,000 settlement agreement with Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in connection with her unlawful arrest while covering a protest in 2020. To our knowledge, this is the largest award to an individual journalist whose rights were violated in connection with protest coverage in 2020.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors formally approved the agreement on Tuesday. Huang was represented by attorneys from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (including your newsletter writer) and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. We also successfully represented Huang in obtaining a ruling from a California court that she was factually innocent of the offense for which she was arrested.
In addition to the scale of the monetary award, the agreement is significant for its training requirements, intended to help prevent local law enforcement officials from unlawfully arresting and assaulting journalists in the future. Those terms include a requirement that the LASD provide deputies with watch briefings on press rights before patrol assignments, like protests, in which they are likely to come into contact with members of the news media, as well as a requirement that the LASD issue written guidance to all employees on the laws and policies governing their interactions with members of the news media.
“This settlement upholds the rights of journalists and helps ensure that what happened to me won’t happen to other reporters. My arrest was traumatic, but I hope that some good can still come of this experience,” said Huang, who plans to donate a portion of the monetary damages from this settlement.
“Journalists in Los Angeles County should be able to record police activity in public without fear of unlawful arrest,” she added. “As the public’s eyes and ears, we must be able to cover protests and document how law enforcement responds to those protests.”
You can read the Reporters Committee’s full statement on the settlement here.
The Technology and Press Freedom Project at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press uses integrated advocacy — combining the law, policy analysis, and public education — to defend and promote press rights on issues at the intersection of technology and press freedom, such as reporter-source confidentiality protections, electronic surveillance law and policy, and content regulation online and in other media. TPFP is directed by Reporters Committee attorney Gabe Rottman. He works with RCFP Staff Attorney Grayson Clary and Technology and Press Freedom Project Fellow Emily Hockett.