Reporter Files Federal Suit Against UCPD for Alleged Violation of Rights

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Journalist David Morse is suing UCPD, the Berkeley Police Department, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office as well as members of these departments and Alameda County for allegedly violating his First, Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights as well as a federal law barring the use of search warrants for unpublished journalistic materials.

Morse, who filed the suit Dec. 9 with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, has covered numerous demonstrations in and around the Bay Area since 2002 and was arrested after the Dec.11, 2009 attack on UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's campus residence while reporting for Indybay. While Morse was still incarcerated at Santa Rita Jail, UCPD was granted a search warrant to maintain possession of his unpublished photos taken that night.

Morse was released on bail the following day and all charges were dropped. However, when Morse attempted to retrieve his belongings from UCPD in late December, he was only given his backpack and blank discs while the police kept the original photographs to use as part of their ongoing investigation.

In June, Alameda County Superior Judge Yolanda Northridge invalidated UCPD's search warrant that had been used to review the photographs taken by Morse on Dec. 11 and the department was ordered the return of all copies of Morse's pictures.

In addition to seeking damages for his claims that his constitutional rights were violated, Morse alleges there are still photographs the department has yet to return to him.

"(The events of Dec. 11) left me shaken and constantly looking over my shoulder," Morse said in an e-mail. "While what they did to me in detaining me, seizing my camera, arresting me, and keeping my photos based on an ill-gotten search warrant was obviously wrong to any fair-minded observer who's paying attention, they seem to believe that whatever they can get away with is okay, and they don't back down until ordered to do so in court."

According to UCPD Capt. Margo Bennett, the department had not had time to review the suit and as such could not comment on it.

"You have to give us opportunity to respond," she said. "I'm sure we are going to have a statement."

All other defendants in the suit deferred comment to UCPD or declined to comment.

Geoffrey King, Morse's lawyer, said this is not the first time the department has been sued for violating constitutional rights. According to King, UCPD is currently involved in another suit stemming from a 2008 raid involving the department, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and the FBI of the Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley. The investigation of that event is still ongoing, and UCPD officials could not be reached for comment regarding that lawsuit.

King added that while Morse may be seeking damages, including some compensation back from his $132,500 bailout, Morse's main goal is to stand up for his rights and the rights of other journalists.

"This is something that never should have happened, and it's a disappointing incident to say the least," King said. "But these federal cases tend to move glacially, and it could take quite a long time. But I'm confident in the strength of this. The process just has to play it self out."

Tags: ALAMEDA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, DAVID MORSE, UCPD, BERKELEY POLICE DEPARTMENT, UCPD CAPT. MARGO BENNETT, CHANCELLOR ROBERT BIRGENEAU


Katie Nelson is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected]



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