LA journalist files anti-SLAPP motion against city, citing first amendment rights

Journalist Ben Camacho held a press conference Tuesday to announce the filing of an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss the city of Los Angeles' lawsuit against him which seeks to stop him from publishing the official photographs, names and serial numbers for more than 9,000 Los Angeles Police Department officers the city gave him six months ago.

On April 6, the City of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against Camacho seeking an order to stop him from publishing government records that his attorneys say, the city voluntarily gave him. 

The suit states the defendant received the photos, names and work locations of 9,000 officers through a public record request. In releasing the information, however, the city included photos and information of officers working undercover assignments, a release that police and city officials have dubbed a mistake.

The photos were then published online by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which was also named as a defendant in the city's lawsuit. 

Camacho's attorneys are worried that if the department's lawsuit is successful... they could go after anyone legally seeking public records. 

"We have just filed an anti-SLAPP motion against the city to prevent this ongoing attempt to destroy the first amendment obligations," said Dan Stormer with the firm Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai LLP.

"The City gave Ben these photographs, and it can’t stop him from publishing them because that would be government censorship in violation of the First Amendment," said UCI Press Freedom Project attorney Susan Seager. "The next thing you know the local city can sue you and wants to send the sheriff to your house to get these records, but you already posted them on your Facebook page or Twitter page," she added. 

Following the photos' release, the officers' information appeared on a website named "Killer Cops," which allegedly offered a bounty to anyone that killed an officer, prompting separate legal action by the union representing LAPD officers.

The city says they are trying to protect the identities of uncover officers. But Camacho says it's not about undercover officers and that he initially requested the names because during the George Floyd protests, officers were not releasing their names and were covering up their badges. 

"Similar to other CPRA requests I’ve made in the past, I requested these records to advance my work, including documentary filmmaking and investigations into policing in Los Angeles," Camacho said. "Access to police records brings transparency and awareness to the otherwise secret inner workings of the LAPD, an organization that receives billions of dollars from the public."

Apparently, the city is now quietly destroying the public records from its own portal. 

"The real motives behind this lawsuit are to shield the Los Angeles Police Department from any measure of accountability and transparency" Stormer added.

Camacho's attorneys say they will continue to fight to protect his First Amendment rights and keep the records public.