Atlanta Pays Journalist $105K to Resolve 2020 Protest Arrest Case

A freelance photographer who was arrested in 2020 while taking pictures at a rally for racial justice has settled with the city of Atlanta for $105,000, his lawyers said.

Sharif Hassan had brought a federal lawsuit saying that his constitutional rights, including his right to free speech under the First Amendment, had been violated. In a news release on Monday, his lawyers said that the cops arrested him because he filmed them arresting a protester in a public place.

“This resolution sends an important message that First Amendment rights must be protected at all times,” said Clare Norins, head of the First Amendment Clinic at the University of Georgia School of Law, which represented Hassan.

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The claim said that Hassan, a freelance photojournalist who has worked for many news outlets, was taking pictures of protests in downtown Atlanta on June 1, 2020, when police started pushing protesters back just before the 9 p.m. curfew. The suit said that a line of National Guard members was behind the police officers, and Hassan and other photographers were between the police and the National Guard.

Hassan was taking pictures when the curfew started. Two minutes later, he was forced to the ground and put in handcuffs, even though he told the officers over and over that he was a working journalist, his lawyers said. Others in the news business were still able to do their jobs.

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The curfew didn’t make any specific exceptions for journalists doing their jobs. However, according to the lawsuit Hassan filed in November 2021, the city did make exceptions for some working journalists but not for others.

Hassan was locked up overnight, and the city kept the charge against him for more than six months before dropping it for “evidential reasons,” according to his lawyers.

Gerry Weber, a lawyer for Hassan, said, “Because people now often film police brutality, people’s eyes have been opened, there have been protests, and more Americans have started to understand that there are problems with the way law enforcement works as a whole.” But police meddling with filming has become far too common.”

“Sharif Hassan was doing his job as a writer, but he couldn’t say anything because he was arrested. Weber said, “That was the point.”

Hassan’s lawyers said that the settlement agreement also says that when an order is given to set a citywide curfew, the city may think about adding language that says “working members of the media are included in any curfew exceptions or carveouts for people engaged in work activities, for people traveling to and from work, or for essential workers, as long as such working members of the media do not intentionally impede or disrupt law enforcement.”

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