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District Attorney Declines To Pursue Case Against KPCC/LAist Reporter Josie Huang

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KPCC/LAist correspondent Josie Huang being detained by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department on September 12, 2020. She was trying to report on deputies arresting a protester outside the hospital where two deputies were being treated after being shot. (ABC7 via Twitter user @TheChalkOutline)
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The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has declined to pursue a case against KPCC/LAist correspondent Josie Huang for obstructing sheriff's deputies, citing “insufficient evidence” provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Huang was arrested on September 12 as she filmed the arrest of an anti-police protester in Lynwood. The arrest of the protestor took place outside a hospital where two deputies were being treated for injuries sustained in an ambush shooting a few hours earlier. While documenting the incident, Huang was thrown to the ground, pinned, handcuffed and arrested.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva later made several false and misleading statements about the incident, even after he was contradicted by video footage captured by Huang and others on the scene.

Villanueva’s department filed a charge of obstructing justice, which the District Attorney declined to pursue on September 22.

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According to the DA office's memo summarizing its decision:

Ms. Huang was in a public area filming a protest. When asked to back up she is almost immediately grabbed by deputies and taken to the ground giving her little if any time to comply. It does not appear that she was intentionally attempting to interfere with the deputies, but merely trying to record the occurrence.

The DA’s account states that she was near the arrest “and while deputies had reason to ask her to back up, Ms. Huang was not given the opportunity to comply with their demand.”

The memo says “at least one deputy heard [Huang] say she was a reporter, because he can be heard to say, ‘Do what you’re told if you’re a reporter.’” That contradicts an incorrect Sheriff’s Department statement that Huang “did not identify herself as press."

It also notes that the penal code section she was accused of violating explicitly states that making a recording of any kind of a peace officer "in a public place" does not constitute a violation of the law.

The arrest of a working journalist sparked outrage from journalism and First Amendment organizations. A letter from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press condemning the arrest and calling for the charges against Huang to be dropped was signed by 64 media organizations, including dozens of California outlets.

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Elected officials, including Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and State Senator Holly Mitchell, also condemned the arrest. A number of L.A. County officials called for the sheriff’s resignation last week, a move Villanueva charged was part of a “proxy war” against him.

In a statement, the sheriff’s department disagreed with the DA's decision. An email from the department said: "This case was investigated and all the elements of the crime were present. The case was presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and they ultimately declined to prosecute. This is not uncommon, as they must weigh many factors into their decision."

It goes on to note that "an internal investigation was opened in this matter and appropriate administrative action will be taken."

In a written statement to KPCC/LAist, Huang said:

I am gratified that the District Attorney’s Office has reviewed the evidence, including my video recordings of law enforcement activity, and reached the conclusion that it did. I am seeking a finding of “factual innocence” that will wipe this unlawful arrest from my record.

Huang added: "More than ever, I am grateful for the First Amendment, which entitles all Americans -- not just journalists -- to the rights of free speech and assembly."
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