Outside Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's residence (photo: Noah Berger, Associated Press)
The University of California agreed to pay $162,500 to photographer David Morse, who was arrested by UC Berkeley police and had his photographs seized during a 2009 campus protest. Morse works for Indybay, an online publication from the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center.
Morse had been on campus December 11 to cover a concert, but followed about 70 torch-bearing students—who were protesting budget cuts and fee hikes—to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s house where they encountered the police. Morse snapped pictures as the protesters fled, but rather than pursuing the students the officers arrested Morse. They ignored his attempt to show his press identification, took his camera, handcuffed him and took him to the police station where he spent the night.
Initially Morse and seven others were arrested on suspicion of rioting, threatening an education official, attempted burglary, attempted arson of an occupied building, vandalism, and assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, but all charges were eventually dropped. The police returned Morse’s camera to him, but not before obtaining a search warrant from a judge to search it for photographs. The police kept the photos and used them in an online brochure that they hoped would entice the public to help them identify protesters. Morse was given a blank memory disc.
But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Northridge ruled the following June that the warrant was invalid and the search illegal because the police had not told a judge that the suspect was a journalist. She ordered that they return all photos to him. Morse said all but one of the pictures on the disc were returned; a photo of a police car approaching the protest scene was deleted.
The deal with Morse was the second recent settlement by UC Berkeley officers over complaints that the department illegally seized electronic material from a journalistic enterprise during an improper police action. In April, the FBI and UC Berkeley police agreed to pay $100,000 to East Bay Prisoner Support and Long Haul Inc. to compensate for a raid in 2008 in which they seized computers and digital storage media.
The search was conducted as part of an investigation into threatening emails sent to Berkeley animal researchers. Long Haul is an alternative library and community center and East Bay Prisoner Support writes about incarceration issues. As part of the settlement, UCPD acknowledged that “Long Haul was a publisher protected by the Privacy Protection Act.” The department had failed to mention that it was raiding a journalistic enterprise when it obtained a warrant for the raid. The department also had to return all seized data.