Judge's Ruling: UCPD Illegally Searched Journalist's Photos

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An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that campus police illegally searched a journalist's camera used to document the Dec. 11 attack on Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's campus home.

Judge Yolanda Northridge's ruling invalidated a search warrant that had been used by UCPD to review photographs taken by David Morse on Dec. 11 and ordered the return of all copies of Morse's photographs, which police used as part of their investigation into the attack.

Morse, who has covered hundreds of demonstrations in and around the Bay Area since 2002, was reporting for Indybay on the night when about 70 protesters - some wielding torches - vandalized Birgeneau's home.

According to the First Amendment Project, an East Bay firm that represented Morse in the case, he repeatedly identified himself as a journalist before he was arrested, and police obtained a search warrant to review his photos before he was released on bail.

Geoffrey King, Morse's lawyer, said police did not tell the judge that he had identified himself as a journalist when they requested the warrant.

UCPD Capt. Margo Bennett said she could not comment on the ruling because campus police had yet to review the judge's decision. However, she added that UCPD wrote the original affidavit for the search warrant in good faith and that they had received a judge's approval.

"If a judge now has an order out that says something different from what was originally stated, we will do what the court has ordered," Bennett said.

King also said he would expect UCPD to act quickly on the ruling because according to California's shield law, every day that they retain possession of Morse's photographs, his journalistic integrity is "harmed."

"I would not expect the police to dilly-dally on this kind of thing," he said. "The judge ordered the property to be returned to Morse as soon as possible. The fact of the matter is that they can't get these unpublished photographs and cannot subpoena him to use them again in the investigation."

Initially, Morse said he was able to retrieve his camera and backpack from campus police in late December, but when he asked for the return of his photographs, he was instead given blank discs while the police kept the original copies to use as part of their ongoing investigation.

Morse said he hopes his case encourages other reporters to feel "a little bolder" when defending their rights. He added that while he found the case an educational process, it has taken a toll on how other news sources view his work.

"Standing up for myself and going to jail knocked the wind out of me," he said. "The ruling is a big step in the right direction, but I still find myself looking over my shoulder."


Katie Nelson covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected]

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