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Sacramento Police Department Changes Protocol Following Arrests Of Journalists At Stephon Clark Protest

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Demonstrators are detained by Sacramento police on the 51st Street overpass over Highway 50 following a protest in East Sacramento.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Demonstrators held a vigil and march Monday night in South Sacramento on the one-year anniversary of Stephon Clark’s death.

The peaceful protest came as the Sacramento Police Department says it is changing how it operates during demonstrations, including the way it handles members of the press.

Police arrested 84 people including two reporters during a protest in East Sacramento two weeks ago.

CapRadio's Scott Rodd was one of the journalists arrested. He attended an invite-only meeting with police last week where the department laid out its new policy. Rodd spoke with CapRadio's Randol White about the arrests and the new changes. Here are highlights from their conversation.

Interview Highlights

On what will change moving forward

Rodd: Currently under state law, any person that's remaining at an assembly that's considered to be unlawful is subject to detainment or arrest. According to Sacramento police, that could include journalists. Sacramento police plan to implement a new procedure where with their message to disperse, they will also include a message to members of the media to identify themselves to a supervising officer who will then lead them away from the group of protesters.

On where members of media would be taken after identifying themselves to police

So at that point, according to police, the member the media would be removed to a safe location, and that's going to be up to the judgment of the supervising officer on the scene.

On what he would have missed if he had been taken from the location of the East Sacramento protest

After the first order to disperse, that was a good distance from where the protesters later convened in front of Trader Joe's and later on where the arrests of all the protesters and several journalists happened. So while if I had removed myself, for example, at the first call for dispersal, while I may have avoided being detained and arrested, there would have been a good chance perhaps of missing opportunities to report on very important events that followed that. And that was the main concern that members of the press had expressed to police at this meeting.

On what would happen if he continues to cover a demonstration despite being asked to remove himself

Police said that you could be detained and that doesn't mean being arrested. The distinction there is if you're detained you may be handcuffed or put in zip ties and pulled aside from the group, but you won't necessarily be processed and charged with anything.

Now police said they don't have any intention of following through with the rest of the press and once detained the police officers at the meeting said the plan would be to verify that in fact someone is a member of the press and to release them. But that raised some questions, such as how long would a journalist be detained which if you are detained you can't do much reporting on what's happening. And beyond that, what would this verification process look like? Those questions didn't have very concrete answers at the meeting.

So this seems to be an open, ongoing conversation with police and it appears to potentially conflict with previous statements given by elected officials. A spokesperson for the mayor's office said that they stand by that statement that the press should be able to continue to do their job as they cover a protest. And they said that they would need to be briefed on the new police policy in order to give further comment.

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