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Editorial: City of LA lawsuit fighting publication of LAPD headshots breaches 1st Amendment

By Editorial Board

April 16, 2023 8:54 p.m.

This post was updated April 18 at 7:08 p.m.

Editor’s note: Editorials do not represent the views of the Daily Bruin as a whole. The board encourages readers to respond to our editorials at

The city of Los Angeles’ decision to suppress a journalist from publishing legally obtained information explicitly violates the freedom of the press.

In September, Ben Camacho, a local journalist with the outlet Knock LA, received headshots of LAPD officers following the settling of a lawsuit with the city over a public records request. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, a community watchdog group that monitors and investigates police surveillance, created a website called “Watch the Watchers,” where they posted the LAPD officers’ headshots.

Consequently, the city of LA filed a lawsuit against Camacho and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition for publishing the images online, claiming they inadvertently released photos of undercover officers.

However, this claim has been questioned given the fact that no headshots of officers on active undercover assignments were included, and the LAPD moved to contest the release using a heavily expanded definition of “undercover.”

Once a public records request is fulfilled, it becomes a part of the public sphere. It’s outrageous for the city to believe a legal remedy is necessary to censor information that is of public interest.

To argue that confidentiality on behalf of public servants is at stake in this scenario is meritless. What is really at stake here is the freedom of the press that allows journalists to obtain information in the interest of the public.

It’s true that private citizens are granted the right to privacy. That is not the case for public servants who sign an oath to conduct themselves with transparency in order to ethically serve their communities.

Camacho has every right to publish this information obtained through a public records request. The city’s attempt to take back legally obtained information is unequivocally an infringement of the First Amendment.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the city has attacked a journalist.

In March 2022, the LA County Sheriff’s Department attempted to cover up a leaked video of an officer kneeling on an inmate’s head for three minutes by opening investigations into the journalists who covered the story for illegally obtaining the footage and publishing it without consent.

A year before that, the LAPD cracked down on journalists covering the sweep of homeless encampments at Echo Park Lake, shooting them with rubber bullets, throwing them to the ground and taking many into custody.

This excessive use of force is nothing short of a deliberate abuse of power and censorship of the press.

It’s about time the LAPD stops its continuous pattern of trying to hide misconduct within its organization and uphold an already fractured reputation.

The implications of withholding information that is in the public interest will cause more harm than good. Journalism should be the source of truth for the public. If the LAPD is making a conscious effort to conceal it, this unjustifiably places skepticism on credible news sources that the public is supposed to trust.

The responsibility of journalists to ethically report the truth should never be attacked or infringed upon by outside forces.

Public servants are meant to be scrutinized to the highest standards by those who they serve in order to be held accountable. The journalist must facilitate the flow of information in order for the public to do so.

Camacho was doing just that.

Revealing any potential misconduct by public servants is and will always be in the public interest.

The editorial board denounces the attempt to censor the press and go against the First Amendment, which must be protected and strictly enforced at all costs.

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