Freelance photojournalist and videographer James “JC” Playford of Ramona has refiled a federal complaint against multiple law enforcement agencies, saying they are obstructing his rights as a member of the press under the First, Fourth and 14th amendments.
“When our forefathers got together and created the Constitution of the United States, they were thinking about an individual, not the corporations that didn’t exist,” he said.
Government-credential press identification cards were non-existent then, he added, and the country needs to get back to what the forefathers wanted for a “free press.”
Playford’s argument surrounds the press badge issued by the San Diego Police Department (SDPD). Without one, Playford said he has been denied access at crime and accident scenes, and in some cases had his camera and raw footage seized by law enforcement.
“It’s not the government’s job to control the media,” he said.
Playford works as an agent of American News and Information Services Inc, owned by Edward Peruta, who lives in Connecticut and in San Diego. Playford said the SDPD would not issue him a press credential, and law enforcement officers would not recognize his American News press badge.
On Monday, April 22, the SDPD granted him a press badge, just over three years after he said he was denied such credentials.
A previous lawsuit filed by Playford and Peruta against members of the San Diego Police and Sheriff’s departments was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Irma Gonzalez on March 25, but it left the door open for them to file an amended complaint within 21 days. They refiled on April 15.
Among those named in the complaint are individual members of the sheriff’s department including Sheriff William Gore, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Playford said he was granted an SDPD press credential in 2007. The complaint contends that after he captured an audio-video recording of sheriff’s deputies beating a man outside Molly Malone’s Sports Tavern in July 2008, posted it on the Internet, and was called by defense to testify, he was harassed by deputies and warned that his press credentials could be revoked.
The freelance photojournalist said the police department denied his press badge renewal application in January 2010, after he posted a recording on the Internet of a makeshift brothel in San Diego’s McGonigle Canyon.
Playford has been arrested about four times for delaying and obstructing law enforcement at crime and accident scenes. In one of those cases he was issued a fine and three years’ probation.
In May 2012 he was arrested at a fatal three-vehicle accident scene on State Route 67 near Rockhouse Road after he was blocked from advancing toward the scene while videotaping. According to Playford, other media representatives were allowed closer access. A detective said Playford “challenged deputies to arrest him.” That case is mentioned in the complaint.
Playford and Peruta request the court find press credentials issued by non-governmental agencies to be recognized and holders of the badges to “enjoy unfettered access to all non-crime scene, public safety response events.”
They also say recordings should not be conditioned upon law enforcement consent.
The two are being represented by Attorney Rachel Baird in Torrington, Conn., and Richard Williams in San Diego.