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Lawyers demand CSULB student journalist’s equipment be returned and an apology issued for his arrest at protest

Lawyers demand CSULB student journalist’s equipment be returned and an apology issued for his arrest at protest

Lawyers representing a Cal State Long Beach student journalist whose equipment deputies reportedly took when he was arrested during a protest are demanding the Sheriff’s Department return the items.

Pablo Unzueta, a freelance reporter who also works for the Daily 49er at the university, was covering a protest on Sept. 8 when he was arrested on suspicion of failing to disperse after the demonstration was declared an unlawful assembly, lawyers said in a Nov. 4 open letter to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Unzueta’s cell phone and camera were confiscated and not returned when he was released, the letter said.

The letter calls for the Sheriff’s Department to return the equipment, assurance that the Sheriff’s Department will not file a case against Unzueta to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, a copy of the arrest report, an apology by the department, and an investigation as to whether deputies may have used their own cell phones to take photos of the people arrested that night.

The Sheriff’s Department did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Inmate records confirm that Unzueta, 26, was arrested on suspicion of a misdemeanor at around 9:20 p.m. on Sept. 8. He was released the next day at nearly 10 a.m. on zero bail and was cited, records show.

He has not been charged with a crime, court records show.

After seeking help from the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit that connects student journalists with legal resources, Unzueta is represented by lawyers at the UC Irvine’s School of Law Intellectual Property, Arts & Technology Clinic, said Susan Seager, a lawyer at the clinic. The clinic was able to help Unzueta get his camera returned, but its memory card and his cell phone have not, she said.

“The Sheriff’s Department claims that there was no memory card in the camera,” Seager said in an interview Tuesday. “But that’s kind of impossible because Pablo was out there photographing the protest.”

Seager said it would be difficult for the memory card to accidentally fall out of the camera because someone would need to press the back door of the camera to get it open, and then push a spring to get the memory card out. Unzueta also has been unable to obtain a copy of his arrest report, she said.

The protest Unzueta was covering at the time was over the death of Dijon Kizze, who was fatally shot by deputies about a week before the protest. About 175 protesters gathered outside the South Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station in a demonstration that was declared an unlawful assembly after protesters began throwing rocks and bottles at deputies, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman said at the time.

Six people were arrested that evening on suspicion of failure to disperse, the spokesman said.

Unzueta, who identified himself as a journalist and was wearing a press credential from his previous school, Mt. San Antonio College, was on his way to his car when he was taken into custody, the letter said. He was put into the back of a van where there were pepper balls that ruptured on impact, sending the spray into his face, eyes and mouth, according to the letter.

“I think this seems to be part of a national trend,” Seager said, “where police officers seem to be hostile towards reporters, arresting them and spraying them with pepper spray.”

The Sheriff’s Department has not responded to the letter, according to Seager. If the department does not meet the letter’s demands, Seager said the lawyers will consider filing a claim.

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