Update: See the Summary Judgment of this case below.

Oakland Tribune photographer Ray Chavez was driving on a California freeway when the car in front of him crashed and rolled over.

Donning his press credentials and grabbing his camera, he immediately pulled over and started taking photos. However, a police officer arrived on the scene and ordered him to leave the area.

Chavez told him he had the right to be there as a member of the press. When Oakland police Officer Kevin Reynolds started writing him a citation, Chavez continued taking photos, which lead to his arrest in 2007 and eventually a lawsuit against the city of Oakland.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

The officer made Chavez sit next to the overturned car with his hands behind his back for a half-hour, the suit said. Passing motorists mistakenly believed Chavez had caused the crash and “cursed and made derogatory references to and signs at plaintiff while he sat on the ground handcuffed,” the suit said.

Oakland police Officer Cesar Garcia told Chavez that he would be cited for impeding traffic and failing to obey a lawful order. The officers gave him the citation, removed the handcuffs and let him go, but not before Reynolds warned him, “Don’t ever come here again to take these kinds of photos,” the suit said.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer dismissed Chavez’s suit saying the media has no First Amendment right to be at an accident or crime scene if the general public is excluded.

Breyer said Chavez “does not offer any evidence that suggests that the general public had a right to exit their vehicles on the freeway and stand in the freeway to take photographs.

Moreover, common sense dictates that members of the general public are not allowed to exit their cars in the middle of the freeway to view an accident scene.”

Common sense also dictates that the media will pull over to the side of the road to cover an accident. In fact, the California Highway Patrol even issues out press passes to journalists who cover spot news for mainstream newspapers.

I know because I used to have one when I covered the cop beat for the San Bernardino County Sun at the turn of the century. Chavez, who has worked for the Oakland Tribune for 15 years, should definitely have one. All the photojournalists do.

I covered many crashes, rollovers and brush fires along Southern California’s freeways and I never had an issue with the cops. Without the following press pass, which expired on 4/20 in true California fashion, I would never have been able to photograph the spot fire below.

Update: See the Summary Judgment of this case below.



Ray Chavez Sj