Updated at the bottom: We're told he got out this afternoon. A colleague gives us an account of what happened. The L.A. County Sheriff's jail information page has a record of him being in custody. First posted at 12:22 p.m.
A journalist who is credited with breaking the news that the billionaire Koch brothers were helping to fund a Tea Party movement that was otherwise billed as “grassroots” was one of the protesters in jail today following the LAPD's sweep of the Occupy L.A. encampment at City Hall Wednesday morning.
Yasha Levine is described by the publication he helped to found, The Exile, as a “a political refugee from Soviet totalitarianism.”
The circumstances of his arrest were unknown, but …
… the LAPD did indicate yesterday that a couple people who claimed to be journalists had been arrested as part of its raid of protesters who were allegedly failing to disperse. The department stated it would check to see if those two were legit.
We'd say a reporter who helped to break the Koch story is indeed for real. His Santa Monica-based online publication, The Exile, published a photo of this self-produced press ID:
For the most part journalists who identified themselves as such and had ties to legit organizations were given a pass for being in the City Hall area after the department declared an unlawful assembly.
The department originally stated it would only recognize those with LAPD press passes, and even then public information officers said there were no guarantees if reporters were caught up in an area being cleared out. (The only surefire way not to get arrested was to be in a pool of 12, well-identified reporters handpicked to be on the front lines and send reports back to the rest of us).
The LAPD doesn't really have the power to say who's a journalist and who isn't, however, and if it did that would set a dangerous precedent. By it's own guidelines, department press passes are supposed to go only to those who cover cops regularly.
An event like the Occupy raid obviously extends behind the scope of the few, true local cop-beat reporters in town, and we spotted news trucks (CNN, NBC, etc.) from across the spectrum with production staff nearby that did not have LAPD passes. Someone like Levine certainly has the right to cover such an event of national import.
And we witnessed several journalists without LAPD press passes — particularly reporters connected to national organizations that don't always cover local events — being allowed to follow cops as they swept First Street near City Hall. Some were even escorted around by officers.
This reporter was threatened with arrest, by a public information officer no less, for attempting to head into the street, but was allowed to go after pointing out the dozens of non-pool journalists already there.
LAPD Commander Andrew J. Smith later joked with reporters still around after 3 a.m. that some of them had “home made” press passes and indicated he would look the other way.
It looks like Levine wasn't so lucky.
The Exile, where he's billed as editor, says he was “illegally imprisoned merely for exercising constitutionally-guaranteed rights” and that he apparently had to spend last night in jail as a $5,000 bail amount remained over his head.
The paper says he fled Moscow in 2008 after the Exile was attacked there for investigating the Kremlin and extremism. It states:
Yasha Levine emigrated from Soviet Russia to the United States just over two decades ago with his parents and siblings-they came here as political refugees from the Soviet Union police state, where political dissent and critical journalism were not tolerated. And now he's sitting in a Los Angeles prison for the same crime he'd have been imprisoned for back in the Soviet Union.
[Update at 12:46 p.m.]: LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman tells us no one by that name had been booked, according to the department's records.
He says two people detained during a street sweep “outside the perimeter” of the Occupy raid, apparently when demonstrators ran off in different directions, immediately identified themselves as members of the press and were released when their claims checked out.
[Update at 1:48 p.m.]: We're told his legal name is Jacob Levine. The L.A. County Sheriff's inmate information page has a record of his incarceration based on a misdemeanor allegation. It states that his bail was set at $2,000, meaning that he could have gone free based on $200 bond. He's described as being 30-years-old.
We're told he got out this afternoon.
[Update at 1:58 p.m.]: Exile editor Mark Ames told us that “Yasha” was observing a group of protesters making their “last stand” at the City Hall south lawn when journalists were told by police to move out. Ames says the reporter decided to stay to observe what was happening along with the LAPD-approved “pool” reporters who were allowed to remain and was thus arrested along with the occupiers.
“We do immersion journalism to get the full story,” Ames said.