Updated at the bottom: The LAPD has opened an investigation into this case, but a commander disputes Mark Geragos' take on what happened to his client that night.
The arrest of a journalist for alleged failure to disperse at Occupy L.A. last month was caught on tape, and video seems to contradict what police said about the situation.
Misreading a media blog follow-up about the arrest, we erroneously stated the reporter for City News Service is female. The arrestee in question is Calvin Milam, a respected reporter and sometime editor for the service.
When we broke the story of the arrest, cops told us the suspect appeared to be possibly drunk and belligerent and did not identify himself as a member of the press. Video posted to The Occupied Venice Journal and echoed at The City Maven seems to contradict that:
You can see Milam's arrest at the 3:22 mark.
Milam appears to clearly show officers his press credentials as he argues with officers. It appears he's trying to … disperse. He finally blows through a skirmish line and is quickly tackled and arrested.
The City Maven reports that Milam has been offered its Alternative Prosecution Program, which would allow him to take a class in exchange for a withholding of prosecution.
However, the blog notes that he has retained famed attorney Mark Geragos, who says, “We're certainly not going to take this lying down:”
” … The video is completely at odds with the accounts I've been told orally (by the LAPD and City Attorney's Office) …
Police told the Weekly Milam, 50, appeared to be part of the occupation, did not appear to be on-duty as a reporter, and did not identify himself as a journalist. Arrest records claim he “refused” to give his occupation.
We checked both county jail and arrest records and could not find Milam's name (his first name ended up being listed differently), leading to our own confusion about which CNS reporter was arrested. CNS' top editor did not return a call seeking comment.
City News Service is a fee-based subscription operation that provides Associated Press-style content to other news outlets in Southern California, including this one. This reporter worked there briefly about 10 years ago.
Remarkably, Milam's byline is found on coverage of the Occupy raid well into the morning of Nov. 30, with his last bylined piece on the raid appearing at 10:19 a.m. that day.
We made calls to Geragos and LAPD Commander Andrew Smith seeking comment.
[Added]: Geragos got back to us. He said police told him the same story they told the Weekly and that …
They patently lied about the whole thing. It's clear to me. I was told the exact same thing. It's fortunate there's a video which shows what really happened.
Asked if Milam was trying to disperse, Geragos said there had been “no unlawful assembly declared” yet when he was arrested. “You don't even have to get to that point.
The code is predicated on unlawful assembly being declared.”
He said that, as a working journalist, Milam did have a special right to be in the area and observe the police.
He said allegations that Milam was possibly drunk and belligerent were untrue:
They have now told you two things that are demonstrably false. One, that he didn't show his press credential. And two, that he was drunk. This guy hasn't touched a drink in 20 years.
Were cops concocting a story in an overreaching move at ass-covering, as they've been known to do?
That I can't even begin to fathom. I don't understand why a reporter form the one news service embedded in the LAPD (City News mans the LAPD press room 24 hours a day and has for decades) would be treated this outrageously.
(Indeed, an LAPD rep asked us if someone working for CNS would even be considered a full-on journalist.)
“This one is completely over the top,” Geragos said.
[Update at 4:08 p.m.]: LAPD Commander Andrew Smith tells us Milam's case was added today to an internal investigation of complaints against officers who had contact with protesters during the raid.
“We've initiated a personnel complaint, and that will be conducted by internal affairs,” he said.
Smith argues that even if Milam showed his press credentials to the officers that he allegedly disobeyed their orders by moving through the skirmish line.
“That guy chose to charge through a police line after having been told not to,” Smith said. ” … He would be subject ot arrest just like anybody else.”
The commander disputed Geragos claim that an unlawful assembly had yet to be declared when the arrest happened. In fact, Smith said, “it may have occured after everybody there was technically under arrest. We gave people 10 minutes to leave.”
And he said that being a member of the press did not give Milam any additional rights to be behind the skirmish line, although other reporters, particularly pool journalists, were allowed behind officers as they took action in other areas of the park that night.
“Even members of the media are subject to arrest,” Smith said.
He said the arrest happened on Spring Street when Milam headed west through the skirmish line, and after people were told to leave via other directions (namely north and south). “He was free to leave any other way,” Smith said.
The case would be investigated alongside about 16 total complaints of officer misconduct that morning, Smith said.