Marin County District Attorney Lori Frugoli’s office announced Tuesday afternoon that it will not file charges against Jeremy Portje, an independent photojournalist who was arrested by Sausalito police officers on Nov. 30 while filming at a city-sanctioned homeless encampment in Marinship Park.
Police claimed that Portje, 43, intentionally hit Sgt. Thomas Georges in the face with a camera. Portje was booked into the Marin County Jail later that evening on three counts, two misdemeanors for suspicion of battery on a peace officer and one felony for obstructing an executive officer.
The arrest, which was partially filmed by a bystander and first covered by the Pacific Sun, quickly drew attention from free speech advocates, who raised concerns that the arrest may have violated state and federal laws protecting journalists.
According to the Dec. 28 statement, the district attorney’s office determined, after reviewing footage from the officers’ body cameras and bystanders, that the available evidence was not strong enough.
“While we take all allegations of assault on a police officer seriously, in this case a team of veteran prosecutors who reviewed the case found that the evidence did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that Portje intended to injure the officer,” Frugoli said in the statement. “Beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of proof required by ethical and legal standards for prosecutors to move forward with a case.”
Despite receiving letters from advocates concerned that Portje’s rights as a journalist were violated, the district attorney’s statement does not mention that Portje is a journalist, instead referring to him as “a man.”
Portje’s attorney, Charles Dresow agrees with Frugoli’s choice not to press charges. Since the arrest of his client, Dresow has been outraged that a journalist would be arrested “for doing his job as a journalist.”
“The DA made the right decision and I credit them for that,” Dresow said.
While police claimed that the journalist intentionally injured Georges, two witnesses told the Pacific Sun that Georges pulled on the photojournalist’s camera, accidentally hitting himself in the face with the equipment. Georges reacted by punching Portje and placing him under arrest, according to the witnesses.
Officer Nick White seized Portje’s equipment at the time of the arrest. Police kept Portje’s camera, memory cards and cell phone as evidence, which is a violation of California’s shield law for journalists, according to David Snyder, an attorney and executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a press advocacy group.
On Dec. 7, Snyder sent a letter to Sausalito Mayor Jill Hoffman, Sausalito Police Chief John Rohrbacher and District Attorney Frugoli advising them that a search of Portje’s equipment would be a violation of state and federal laws, as well as the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution. California laws ban the use of search warrants to obtain and search a journalist’s unpublished materials.
Despite being informed of the applicable laws, two days later, the Sausalito Police Department prepared an affidavit seeking a search warrant allowing the department to look through Portje’s camera, memory cards and phone for evidence. Sausalito Police Chief Rohrbacher has previously told the Pacific Sun that the district attorney’s office reviewed the affidavit prior to the police submitting it to Marin County Superior Court Judge Mark Talamantes. Talamantes approved the search warrant.
According to the Dec. 28 statement, the district attorney’s office decided not to review the materials covered by the search warrant. No reason was given for the decision.
Dresow has filed a motion to quash the search warrant and a hearing will be held on the matter tomorrow. If successful, the Sausalito police will be required to return Portje’s equipment.