The Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter of SPJ sent the following letter on September 16, 2020 to Max Huntsman, Inspector General for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, expressing the Chapter’s concerns about the Department’s media policy, and objections about the Department’s conduct regarding the recent mistreatment and arrest of KPCC/Southern California Public Radio reporter Josie Huang.
The matter will also be taken up on September 17, 2020 at 9 a.m. during the virtual live meeting of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, under Item #2 of the Commission Agenda. The public is invited to register for and participate in the live-streamed meeting here: https://bit.ly/34ewI9I
Mr. Max Huntsman
L.A. County Office of Inspector General
312 S Hill St Fl 3
Los Angeles, CA 90013-1109
The Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists strongly supports your decision to investigate the arrest of KPCC reporter Josie Huang by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on Saturday, September 12, 2020 in Lynwood. As you may know, this organization already has denounced deputies’ decision to arrest a working journalist.
We would respectfully request that you make public the information your office gathers regarding her arrest – videos, eyewitness accounts, MDT transmissions, written reports, and any other documentation of deputies’ actions. It is also imperative that your office work to answer these questions:
- Was Huang’s arrest justified?
- Did deputies use excessive force during this incident?
- Were deputies adequately informed that Huang was a journalist?
- What is the LASD’s policy for dealing with journalists – on sidewalks, public streets and elsewhere?
- Was the department’s policy followed in this case?
- Did the department make statements about deputies’ treatment of Huang that were inaccurate? Did they make statements that were deliberately false?
- Did Huang’s gender or ethnicity play any role in the way she was treated?
- Is this an isolated incident or have there been other recent instances of the department detaining journalists or preventing them from doing their jobs?
The question before the county is not simply whether deputies interfered with the First Amendment rights of a working journalist. More broadly, we urge you to also investigate whether the department engages in a pattern or practice of concealing its actions or misrepresenting them to the public.
In this case, Huang was arrested while legitimately covering the arrest of a protester. In addition, our organization has received complaints about the department ignoring or denying public records requests. Your office also has reported being denied crucial access to records and personnel.
The department’s treatment of Huang threatens to have a chilling effect on journalists across the county. We cannot overstate the importance of a thorough investigation by your office.
Society of Professional Journalists
Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter
cc: Board of Supervisors
Los Angeles Press Club
Radio Television News Association
CONTACT: Joel Bellman, Advocacy Committee Chair, firstname.lastname@example.org