Saturday, February 16, 2008

Media Rights Violations


It's been a busy winter, but I am back. This is something I feel needs to be talked about.

Feb. 16, 2008

Recently, there have been two incidents between myself and the L.A. County Sheriff Dept. field officers. I think these need to be talked about so that blatant violations do not continue. The following is my opinion of what I think were violations. If there are any legal eagles out there who can comment on this, it would be greatly appreciated.

I feel my civil rights have been violated by three L.A. County Sheriff Dept. employees on two different occasions: Friday, Feb. 15, 2008, by Sgt. Scott Craig & Pioneer High School SRO at Pioneer High School in Whittier; and a female deputy in Valinda on Jan. 24, 2008:

(Incident #2 shows photos of what L.A. County Sheriff personnel cannot, should not and must not do against the media.)


Here is what happened Feb. 15, 2008, at Pioneer High School and what I think were rights violations by the sheriff department.

Background: A suspicious device was found at Pioneer High School, Whittier, during school hours. Sheriff officers gathered in a parking lot at the school to investigate the situation. Some of the streets were blocked by police cars but others were not. The main entrance to the school was not blocked off at all and no yellow tape was anywhere. Students milled around within the gates of the school as they went from class to class or where ever they were going. When arriving at the scene, I spoke to two deputies at a corner near the school and they informed me a device had been found and that evacuations of neighbors was being attempted. They also said evacuations at the school would occur and that students would be taken to a parking lot. Since students were walking around inside, I decided to approach the security guard at the gate to ask if I could speak with the school's principal, who has a good rapport with the newspaper I work for. I needed to know if evacuations were going to happen. But then...

A - I was kept from approaching the school's front gate's security guard to ask to speak with the principal by Sgt. Craig. When I asked the Sgt. "Isn't this a public place?" Sgt. Craig stated that under Sheriff Lee Baca's name, he could take my press pass if I continued to seek access to the school. He said the school was closed and that there were minors inside. There was no yellow tape or anyone or anything that stated or implied the school was a closed campus. I had just spoken to two other deputies who did not mention anything about the school being closed.

After I spoke with Sgt. Craig, the school's SRO told me I could not speak to the principal or anyone else at the school, and that I needed to talk to her only. She could not have known that I wanted to speak to the principal unless Sgt. Craig spoke to her and told her. This, I feel, created the conspiracy to stop me from speaking to the principal.

I feel Sgt. Craig violated California Penal Code 409.5 (d). and Title 18, U.S.C., Section 242 Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law for not allowing me to approach the school's front gate and security guard and also Title 18, U.S.C., Section 241, Conspiracy Against Rights for speaking with the SRO about my intentions to speak to the principal.

B - I feel that Pioneer High School SRO, identified as SRO-Deputy Claudia Iwasczyszyn in the school's official website's directory, conspired with Sgt. Craig of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department to prevent me from speaking with anyone at school.

After I spoke with Sgt. Craig about my intentions to see if the school principal had any information about evacuations, the school's SRO came to me and told me I had five seconds to speak to her and that I could not speak to the principal of the school or anyone else there. Since I was on the telephone at the time leaving a message for the principal, I told her I did not need to speak to her. She began to walk away and I asked her for her name and title. She refused to give me her name and stated that the only thing I needed to know was that she was the school's SRO.

I feel the SRO violated my civil rights by conspiring with Sgt. Craig to keep me from speaking to the principal and anyone else at the school and by refusing to give me her name when requested.

Additionally, I feel these two officers of the law violated Canons of Ethics and Ethical Standards that the L.A. County Sheriff and California Peace Officers Association Law Enforcement Code of Ethics set forth, as well as the L.A. County Sheriff's Department mission and core values and media guide.

Below are two items of note directly out of the website:

Media Access at an Incident/Crime Scene:
Whenever the media is denied access to an incident/crime scene, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department personnel shall:

- Provide a "Media Area" with maximum access possible under the circumstances 
- Assign a P.I.O. to provide timely and updated information to the media 
- Consider "Pool" access, (1 TV camera, 1TV reporter, 1 print reporter, 1 still photographer, 1 radio reporter) into the scene, who will share the information with their counterparts outside the scene

All three points above were not provided to me.

I was told by Sgt. Craig a media area would be provided but it never was; the school SRO never identified herself as PIO, spoke to me in a demeaning manner and was very belligerent in her attitude and composure; no pool access was even mentioned to me.

Media Access at a Disaster Scene:
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department may close an area under the authority of:
0. 409.5(a) P.C. ". ..a menace to the public health or safety is created by a calamity such as a flood, storm, fire, earthquake, explosion, accident, or other disaster. . ."
0. However, 409.5(d) P.C. states "Nothing in this section shall prevent a duly authorized representative of any news service from entering the area closed . . . "
Disaster Scene Command Post Areas may be closed to the media.
A safety hazard to the media does not justify restriction; however, it is Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department policy to warn the media of potential danger before allowing access.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department personnel shall honor current media passes, from other law enforcement agencies.

Sgt. Craig did not honor my current media pass, did not warm me of any dangers and instead threatened to take it away in the name of Sheriff Lee Baca.

This information was taken directly from website (link below):

In the end, after the female SRO talked to me, she went and put tape all around the streets. I remained on the sidewalk in front of the school's entrance, the principal got my message and came out to talk to me and a reporter who had walked in after a code 4 was called and the tape taken down. The device was just some sort of tube capped at both ends.


On January 24, 2008, while at a kidnapping scene at the 17400 block of Boulay Ave. in Valinda, I feel a female L.A. County Sheriff deputy violated media rights as follows.

Background: Arriving at the scene of a kidnapping, there was yellow tape about 100 yards to each side of the home on a very long block. When a reporter and myself arrived at the scene, we were immediately confronted by a female deputy and told to move back. Another sheriff officer came to her and told her to move the tape back all the way to the end of the street, or another 50 yards or so.

This female deputy made me move my vehicle and moved us father back from the home where two people had been kidnapped. As shown in photos below (original files are 1-24-08-22 KIDNAP3 and 1-24-08-22 KIDNAP4), neighbors mill around in the street within the yellow tape as the media, SGVN and KTLA, are kept away behind the tape. I drove to the other side of the street, where channel 5 had set up, again, behind yellow tape, almost at the other corner of a very long street. The incident was approximately right in the middle of the block.

If there were neighbors within the yellow tape, why was it necessary for the deputy to move the media back away from the scene at all?

Photo #3 shows SGVN reporter Brian Day speaking with sheriff personnel in background, behind the yellow tape, and people holding babies, and just walking in the street holding a coffee mug and hands in their pockets WITHIN the yellow tape. Photo #4 shows the female deputy, who is readily identifiable, putting up the tape, with one of the persons in photo #3 in the background as well.

The media guide page on the web states:

Incident/Crime Scene "Don'ts" for LASD Personnel

0. Do not establish artificial barriers for the media. For example, do not cordon off the media a block from the incident/crime while allowing the general public to wan d e just beyond the incident / crime scene tape.
0. Do not arbitrarily isolate the media outside the incident / crime scene, unless their presence inhibits the investigation or response by law enforcement or other emergency personnel.
0. Do not prevent the media from photographing, filming or interviewing people in public areas. The media may interview, film or take photographs of whomever they wish in public 
0. Do not limit media access based on safety concerns. It is the responsibility of each individual member of the media whether to assume the risks involved.

Incident/Crime Scene Reminders for LASD Personnel

0. While some incident / crime scenes may require a ban on any media vehicles, this restriction may not necessarily apply to media access on foot.
0. A safety hazard to the media does not justify restriction; however, warning of potential danger before allowing access is LASD policy.
If the general public has access to an area, the media can also be there.
0. LASD personnel shall honor current media passes from other law enforcement agencies.
0. NOTE: In the event of a dispute over access, contact the Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau.

The first bullet point under "DON'TS" above specifically describes what the female deputy did wrong, who with a stern and demeaning voice and aggressive, intimidating body posturing violated their own department's rules.

See photos below:

Reporter Brian Day, in white shirt, is shown behind yellow tape in background speaking with Sheriff dept. personnel. Neighbors mill around within the yellow tape in violation of media guide rules. Photo is taken from other side of street, behind yellow tape, next to Channel 5 camera, with a 400 mm lens and a 1.4 ext. (Photo by Raul Roa/SGVN)

This female sheriff officer made media move farther back away from scene while neighbors milled around within the yellow tape on the other side of the street. media guide states she is not allowed to do this and is violating media rights.
(Photo by Raul Roa/SGVN)

In the end, an ambulance took someone away from the home and police activity died down in front of the home. Even though the tape remained up, I left.

Link to the LASD media guide:

The person in charge of the L.A. Co. Sheriff Pico Rivera Station and Industry Station is Thomas P. Angel, Field Operations Region III Chief.

Raul Roa
SGVN Staff Photographer