It’s no secret that journalists covering political conventions may get arrested. More than 40 journalists were arrested in Minnesota while covering the Republican National Convention the last time around, and there is legitimate concern that this summer’s convention will not be any different.
Every four years since the 1976 conventions, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has operated special convention hotlines for reporters covering the conventions or the protests surrounding them. This year, the Reporters Committee is teaming up with Thomas & LoCicero PL in Tampa, Fla., and McGuireWoods LLP in Charlotte, N.C., to provide journalists with pro bono legal assistance.
Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to download the Reporters Committee’s free FirstAid mobile app on your smartphone, and keep reading to learn what to expect if you can’t avoid arrest.
“Lumps and bumps in the road”
At this year’s Republican National Convention, law enforcement agencies in Tampa, Fla., are promising to be more media-friendly than other cities that have hosted high-profile political events in the past.
“We all know when the [convention] is gone we still have to co-exist in our media market,” said Larry McKinnon, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. “There will be lumps and bumps in the road, but we’re certainly going to try to minimize them.”
McKinnon said those arrested during the convention will undergo a routine booking process.
“The process is no different other than the fact that they will be segregated [from those arrested for crimes unrelated to the convention] to process them faster in case there is an increased volume of arrests,” he said.
If an arrestee is identified as a reporter, the department will “cut the reporter loose” even before he or she is booked, as long as the arrest is unfounded, according to McKinnon. He said the department is working with the Reporters Committee and the Tampa-based law firm Thomas & LoCicero PL to expedite the process when a journalist is involved.
Robert Tufano, public information officer with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, declined to discuss details about arrests during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
“We’re not going to discuss protective means, methods, specific resources or numbers utilized to carry out protective responsibilities,” he said. “This of course includes specific operations concerning arrests in and around the protest route.”
You’re arrested, now what?
If you are arrested for disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, failure to follow a police order or any other non-felony infraction, the quickest way to get back onto the streets and reporting is to cooperate and post bond.
If arrested in Tampa, you likely will be loaded into a transport vehicle and taken to Orient Road Jail to be booked.
Once at the jail, you will wait in line until your name is called. You will then turn in personal property and provide your name, address and other biographical information to the booking clerk. Next, you will be fingerprinted and given the opportunity to use the telephone. Finally, you will post bond, receive a date for a future court appearance and then be released.
However, if you cannot or refuse to post bond, you will have an arraignment. You have the right to have an attorney at your arraignment, and you may call the Reporters Committee Media Hotline to request a volunteer attorney who can provide free assistance in connection with your arraignment.
McKinnon said he does not know exactly where or when the arraignments in Tampa will take place. However, he said there will be “an expanded arraignment process,” meaning there will be additional judges to handle the projected increased amount of arrests.
At the arraignment, you will appear in front of a judge, and you will enter a plea. If you plead not guilty, your case will be set either for a disposition date within two weeks or for trial within 90 days, and bond will be set by the judge. It is in your best interest to file a written demand for jury trial, and pay the required $25 fee within 20 days after the plea is entered.
After the arrest, if you believe your rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution were violated, you may be able to sue the arresting officer or the department in civil court.
These civil rights claims, brought under federal law 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and thus often dubbed “Section 1983 claims,” allow a plaintiff to seek damages from the government and the official for the official’s unlawful conduct. Generally, the purpose of a Section 1983 claim is to prevent civil rights violations by government officials.
Most civil rights claims brought by journalists allege violation of the First Amendment. This includes the detention and arrest of working reporters and interference with their ability to gather information and report on matters of public interest by denying them access to a place where a newsworthy event has occurred.
Other civil rights actions may be brought for violation of journalists’ right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment — for example, if officials confiscate journalists’ notes, film, video or other newsgathering equipment or arrest them without probable cause. The Privacy Protection Act of 1980 also prohibits police from confiscating journalists’ newsgathering materials. The federal statute applies to all types of journalists in any situation.
Examples of civil rights actions brought by journalists and a more comprehensive guide to civil rights claims can be found in “Police, Protesters and the Press,” a package published in the Winter 2012 issue of The News Media and the Law.
The must-have items:
A government-issued identification card: If you are detained without a government-issued I.D., the police will hold you until you can be fingerprinted and positively identified. This process can take several hours and makes you ineligible for immediate release on bond.
Cash: For the worst-case scenario involving an arrest and a trip to the Orient Road Jail, journalists should also carry at least $250 in cash (ideally, $500 in cash) to enable them to post bond quickly. Credit cards will not be accepted in Tampa. The suggested cash amounts are based on the standard bond schedule for likely arrest offenses. The Reporters Committee Media Hotline has a copy of the bond schedule for specified offenses.
Press pass or credential: Make sure to carry something that identifies you as a member of the press.
Media Hotline phone number: The Reporters Committee Media Hotline provides free 24-hour legal aid to journalists. Call 800-336-4243 for assistance. The Reporters Committee also has special local numbers set up for the hotlines in Tampa and Charlotte (see box, previous page).
This information is subject to change, so visit the Reporters Committee’s webpage, https://www.rcfp.org/conventions, for the most recent information.
The Reporters Committee partners with local law firms to run special emergency hotlines for journalists every four years during the major political conventions. Keep these numbers handy in case you are arrested, our download our mobile app (www.rcfp.org/firstaid).
Tampa: (813) 984-3076
Staffed by attorneys from Thomas & LoCicero PL during the Republican National Convention, Aug. 27-30.
Charlotte: (704) 343-2063
Staffed by attorneys from McGuireWoods LLP during the
Democratic National Convention, Sept. 3-6.