The ninth circuit reinstated a lower court's injunction exempting journalists and legal observers from general dispersal orders. Many reporters say they have been assaulted by federal agents despite remaining several feet away from protests.
In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth Circuit wrote that the lower court’s restraining order was too broad because it failed to specify who qualified as a journalist or legal observer. In previous hearings, the federal government had argued that differentiating between journalists and protesters was especially difficult given that some protesters wear press insignia to avoid the police’s crowd control tactics.
The judge extended a preliminary injunction prohibiting federal agents from "arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force" against journalists or legal observers. An attorney working with the ACLU on the case called the court's decision "a crucial victory for civil liberties and freedom of the press."
While leading I & A, Brian Murphy compiled intelligence reports on two journalists–a New York Times reporter and Lawfare’s editor-in-chief– who had published leaked department documents. Murphy also compiled reports analyzing protesters' electronic messages that discussed tactics such as which routes to follow and how to avoid the police.
The lawsuit claims that the filming of demonstrators violates a state law that prohibits collecting information about the political, religious, or social views of an individual or group who are not suspected of criminal activity. The practice could also discourage protesters from attending demonstrations to avoid state surveillance.
The district judge rejected the notion that journalists had no legal right to remain in an area where officers had issued an order to disperse. "Without journalists and legal observers, there is only the government’s side of the story to explain why a ‘riot’ was declared and the public streets were ‘closed’ and whether law enforcement acted properly in effectuating that order,” the judge wrote.
“We are today asking the federal court to stop the federal police from secretly stopping and forcibly grabbing Oregonians off our streets,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen F. Rosemblum said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.