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Publisher faces criminal charges over report on police investigation

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    NMU         FLORIDA         Newsgathering         Jun 26, 2001    

Publisher faces criminal charges over report on police investigation

  • Police say an editor-publisher broke the law by publishing a story based on a compliant he filed with department’s internal affairs division.

A criminal law that has been deemed unconstitutional in a number of courts has nevertheless been used to charge the publisher of newspaper in Key West, Fla., with a misdemeanor.

Dennis Cooper, the editor and publisher of Key West the Newspaper, was arrested after publishing information about an internal police investigation on June 15 and 22.

Cooper’s arrest followed the publication of a series of articles that alleged the police mishandled an investigation within the department. After a citizen questioned the conduct of the police department, Cooper filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which began an internal investigation.

After Cooper published the articles about the investigation he was arrested by Key West police. Police claimed that Cooper violated a state law that prohibits anyone, including the person who filed the complaint, from divulging information regarding an internal police investigation before it is entered as a public record.

Honoring the current statue, however, may be questionable, said attorney James Green, former legal director fo the Florida American Civil Liberties Union.

“The law has been declared by two other judges to be unconstitutional,” Green said. “I also think it would be safe to say there have been five different gag rules that have been declared unconstitutional by five separate judges.”

The arrest warrant also stated that the series of articles Cooper published included sensitive information that could potentially jeopardize the investigation.

“I simply summarized all the allegations I had been making for the previous five weeks,” Cooper said.

Michael Barnes, Cooper’s attorney, said his client did not divulge confidential information.

“Dennis Cooper did not disclose internal investigative information,” Barnes said. “He only published information that he retrieved from his own investigative reporting as a journalist.”

The Key West Police Department did not return calls for comment.

(Florida v. Cooper; Counsel: Michael Barnes) EU

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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