LA’s lawsuit against journalist Ben Camacho is an unconstitutional mess

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LAPD officers who claim they work undercover are suing the city for accidentally releasing their photographs to a journalist. The city, ignoring the Constitution and Supreme Court, is demanding the journalist pay the bill. "Los Angeles Police Department Bomb Squad" by TDelCoro is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

In 2022, the City of Los Angeles accidentally released photos to journalist Ben Camacho of officers it contends were working undercover, after Camacho sued them to enforce his rights to public records.

Then, last year, the city sued him to get the photos back and to stop him and others from publishing them. That lawsuit, which sought an unconstitutional prior restraint, was bad enough.

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But now LA is going even further. After officers sued it for the harm its release of their photos allegedly caused them, the city sued Camacho, contending he should be responsible for the costs of its negligence.

The city ignores that the Supreme Court has ruled four times that, when the government accidentally releases documents to journalists, that’s the government’s problem.

Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Advocacy Director Seth Stern wrote for the Los Angeles Daily News about LA’s effort to pass along responsibility for its recklessness to a journalist:

The city has hit the trifecta of anti-press First Amendment violations: first, demanding journalists give back documents the government released, second, censoring journalists from publishing information, and now, holding journalists financially liable for truthful publications — something that, once again, the Court has never permitted.

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