Journalist Can Sue BART

A journalist arrested during protests against San Francisco transit police may go to trial over his claims that the transit officers arrested him because of his critical coverage while ignoring other journalists at the event.

A federal magistrate on Tuesday said David Morse should be allowed to proceed with his civil rights lawsuit claiming he was illegally targeted by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police during a demonstration September 2011.

Morse writes for IndyBay an online newspaper and wire service that distributes stories and audio and visual materials for media outlets.  He and other reporters were covering a protest at San Francisco’s Powell Street station as a part of a wave of rush hour protests to express concern over a BART officer’s killing of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day.

BART officers maintained Morse’ arrest for blocking BART fare gates was legal.

Morse maintains the arrest was retaliation in violation of his First Amendment rights.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Corley rejected BART’s request to dismiss the lawsuit saying there are disputed issues of fact a jury must resolve.

She said the suit alleges that commanders gave officers a photo of Morse and a protest organizer with instructions to arrest them if they broke the law.

Morse focused on covering political movements and published under the pen name, Dave Id.

Corley said it is undisputed that many of his articles included negative facts and critical commentary about BART and its police force.  He had accused BART of attempting to “cover-up” the alleged murder of Grant, the opinion states.

One of the arresting officers described Morse as “an active participant of the protest at the Powell Street BART station,” according to Corley.

No other journalist was arrested during that protest, she said.

Morse was handcuffed and also held at the police station for two hours, rather than the typical practice of citing protesters without arrest, according to Corley.

A jury could conclude Morse was singled out because of his articles, she said.

Case: Morse v. San Francisco BART, No. 12-cv-5289JSC

 

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