3 journalists settle with cities in 2008 RNC arrests

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 4, 2011 - 9:03 AM

Deal involves Minneapolis, St. Paul and the federal government.

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Police made arrests at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in September 2008.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Three journalists have agreed to a settlement that totals $100,000, more than three years after being arrested by riot police while covering a protest at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

The cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis last week reached an agreement in federal court with "Democracy Now!" host Amy Goodman. The settlement doesn't assign blame to either city for arresting her and two producers as they covered a demonstration at the convention.

The cities will pay a combined $90,000 to Goodman, Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous under an insurance policy taken out by convention organizers. The federal government will pay $10,000.

Goodman and her producers sued both cities, Ramsey County, the federal government and several others, alleging that they were unlawfully arrested and that officers were inadequately trained in First Amendment rights.

"The goal was not just a lawsuit for the sake of a lawsuit, but to see some change and acknowledgment of what had happened," said Anjana Samant of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CRC) in New York City and one of the plaintiffs' attorneys. "The point was really to say, 'There's a problem here.' Our clients wanted to make sure it didn't happen again."

"When journalists are arrested, it is not only a violation of freedom of the press, but of the public's right to know," Goodman said. "When journalists are handcuffed and abused, so is democracy."

The settlement was reached last week under U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan after the plaintiffs' attorneys had already collected 20 depositions to support their case. Attorneys' fees had reached about $1.5 million and other costs to the CRC were in the tens of thousands of dollars. Attorneys from the CRC and a local and New York firm represented Goodman pro bono.

Attorney Jon Iverson, representing the defendants, said the settlement was "simply too advantageous to pass up," given how much it would have cost to continue litigation.

"Candidly, I was surprised that it settled for the amount that it settled," he said.

Money was never the focus, Samant said, citing a victory in the settlement that calls for local police to implement a training program for officers on First Amendment rights of the press and public.

"There needs to be some plan for how to deal with journalists and how to deal with First Amendment rights," Samant said.

St. Paul police will create and implement the training, which will be available statewide, Iverson said.

According to the CRC: Salazar was cornered by riot police and forced to the ground while filming a demonstration outside the RNC. Her face was bloodied and her camera was disabled as she identified herself as a member of the press to police officers advancing toward her in riot gear. Kouddous tried to help Salazar and explained that the two were journalists, but he was pushed against a wall and kicked in the chest. Goodman came to their aid and was arrested.

The incident was caught on camera and can be viewed at www.democracynow.org.

Dozens of journalists were among the 800 people arrested during the Sept. 1-4 convention. The St. Paul city attorney's office recommended against prosecuting journalists who were picked up during the convention, but authorities did not admit any wrongdoing in the arrests.

"Journalists don't have a right to break the law," Iverson said.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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