Atlanta to pay journalist $105,000 to settle lawsuit over 2020 protest arrest

May 10, 2023, 9:07 AM

ATLANTA (AP) — A freelance photojournalist who was arrested while taking photos during a racial justice demonstration in 2020 has reached a $105,000 settlement with the city of Atlanta, his lawyers said.

Sharif Hassan had filed a federal lawsuit claiming his constitutional rights were violated, including his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. His lawyers said in a news release Monday that officers arrested him in retaliation for recording the police as they arrested a protestor in a public place.

“This resolution sends an important message that First Amendment rights must be protected, including, and especially, during times of political and social upheaval,” said Clare Norins, director of the University of Georgia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic, which represented Hassan.

Hassan, who has worked as a freelance photojournalist for numerous news outlets, was photographing protests in downtown Atlanta on June 1, 2020, when police began pushing demonstrators back shortly before a 9 p.m. curfew, the lawsuit said. A line of National Guard members was behind the police officers, and Hassan was between the police and the National Guard along with other journalists, the suit said.

Two minutes after the curfew took effect, Hassan was taking photos when he was forced to the ground and handcuffed, despite repeatedly telling officers he was a working journalist, his lawyers said. Other members of the news media were allowed to continue working.

The curfew included no explicit exception for journalists doing their jobs, but in practice the city exempted some working journalists but not others, according to the lawsuit Hassan filed in November 2021.

Hassan was jailed overnight and the charge against him lingered for more than six months until the city dismissed it for “evidentiary reasons,” his lawyers said.

Gerry Weber, a lawyer for Hassan said that “because citizens now frequently film police brutality, eyes have opened, demonstrations have occurred, and more Americans have begun to understand systemic flaws in law enforcement. Yet, police interference with filming has become far too commonplace.”

“Sharif Hassan was doing his job, as a journalist, and his arrest silenced him. That was the point,” Weber said.

Hassan’s lawyers said the settlement agreement also says that whenever an order is issued to establish a citywide curfew, the city may consider including language that says, “working members of the media are included in any curfew exceptions or carveouts for people engaged in work activities, for people traveling to and from work, or for essential workers, provided such working members of the media do not intentionally impede or intentionally disrupt law enforcement.”

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Atlanta to pay journalist $105,000 to settle lawsuit over 2020 protest arrest