Criminal Charges for Committing Journalism

by Pamela A. MacLean, Trial Insider.
Photo by Pocho-one Fotography.

Two photojournalists face highly unusual criminal charges in Santa Cruz County that by publishing photos of a November Occupy Movement protest they conspired to aid the protesters and acted as “public information officers” for the group. Bradley Stuart Allen and Alex Darocy will be in court Tuesday asking the charges be dismissed.

The ACLU of Northern California has weighed in, filing papers arguing that the legal theory used to justify the charges of conspiracy to aid and abet the protest could apply criminal liability to journalists taking photos from outside the building and behind police lines.

“Prosecutions such as this one can serve to chill speech even if they do not result in a conviction…” wrote Michael Risher, ACLU attorney.

Allen and Darocy, are asking the judge to dismiss charges that against them.  Their lawyers, Benjamin Rice and George Gigarjian, accuse the district attorney of selective prosecution.

Risher says the charges against the pair are based on inferences about Allen and Darocy’s point of view, which, if true, would be improper.

Allen and Darocy both publish photos for Indybay, a website intended as an alternative to mainstream press.  They began covering the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle.  Allen is a senior member of Indymedia and both are members of the editorial board of Indybay, according to the ACLU.

They covered a Nov. 30, 2011 Occupy Movement protest that occupied a vacant bank building in Santa Cruz and maintain they were there to cover the protest as journalists.

The prosecution argues that they conspired to aid trespassing on the bank building and by taking and publishing photographs they are liable as aiders and abettors to the vandalism and trespass.

Risher points out that a Santa Cruz Sentinel photographer also took pictures from insider the bank but is not being prosecuted.

“A critical review of the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing in this matter shows that there is insufficient evidence of the specific intent that is necessary to hold these two defendants to answer for conspiracy or for aiding and abetting any crimes,” wrote Risher.

He argues the pair are being prosecuted for conduct that occurred while they were gathering and disseminating information about a newsworthy event.

The government contends that Allen and Darocy, because of allegedly biased reporting were acting as “the occupiers’ press agents” to publicize the event rather than present a balanced picture.

Risher called this type of prosecution an impermissible burden on newsgathering and violation of the First Amendment.

Property damage from the four nights of occupation of the building were estimated at $400, according to lawyers from Allen and Darocy.  Ten protesters were charged separately.

Case:  People v. Allen, Darocy,  Nos. F22193, F22195