Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why I Was Arrested Yesterday at a D.C. Taxi Commission Meeting


from reason magazine (online)

On June 22, Reason.tv's Jim Epstein was arrested while attending a meeting of the D.C. Taxicab Commission. The DCTC is pushing a medallion system that would strictly limit the number of cabs in the nation's capital and Epstein's documentary on the awful plan will be released tomorrow at Reason.tv, Reason.com, and our YouTube Channel.

Epstein got into trouble when police took another journalist, Pete Tucker, into custody. Epstein, who had been making an audio recording of the meeting for his piece, filmed the arrest of Tucker with his phone (watch the vid above and go here to read more about it all). Epstein spent hours in a holding cell and the government took his phone away before releasing him. The latest word is that all charges against both Epstein and Tucker have been dropped and that they will not be prosecuted.

Reason enlisted noted First Amendent lawyer (and Reason contributor) Robert Corn-Revere to represent Epstein, and his swift action helped to defuse a situation in which the powerful were more than ready to take advantage of the powerless. From Corn-Revere's letter to D.C.'s attorney general, head of the DCTC, and the head of the U.S. Park Police (who actually made the collars):

Mr. Epstein and Mr. Tucker both were placed under arrest for “disorderly conduct” and “unlawful entry – remaining,” neither of which has any possible merit as was apparent at the time. Mr. Epstein’s video, which could be posted only after his equipment finally was retrieved from police custody, showed clearly that there was no disorderly conduct of any kind. Rather, his video documents something that should be unknown in a free society – the sad spectacle of a reporter being arrested by police and led away in handcuffs from a public meeting he was attempting to cover. That video is available at (http://reason.tv/video/show/taxi-commission-arrest). Mr. Epstein, in turn, was a arrested and jailed for doing nothing more than documenting Mr. Tucker’s unlawful arrest.

We have been advised that both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General are declining to press charges in this matter. This obviously is the right thing to do, and we acknowledge and appreciate the prompt resolution of potential criminal charges. Nevertheless, it is important to impress upon you the serious nature of the violations of fundamental rights that occurred. And while it is fortunate that the federal and district governments did not make matters worse by pursuing a futile and baseless prosecution, deciding not to inflict further harm does not by itself cure the deprivations that took place....

It is in the interest of all concerned that this matter be resolved promptly and without litigation. The District and federal governments took a significant step in the right direction by declining to prosecute the journalists involved. They may now help undo the damage caused by the Taxicab Commission’s violations of the Open Meetings Act and by the unlawful arrests on June 22. Mr. Epstein was subjected to illegal arrest and incarceration, and faced the prospect of nine months in jail and a $1,250 fine if convicted on the disorderly conduct charge, and six months in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted on the unlawful entry charge. For its part, Reason was required to hire outside counsel when it was unclear when Mr. Epstein would be released and his equipment returned.

Any informal resolution of this matter must address each of these issues. The Taxicab Commission must adopt a policy that strictly adheres to the letter and spirit of the Open Meetings Act, including a statement making it clear that audio and video recordings of open meetings will not be impeded. Mr. Epstein should be compensated for suffering the indignity of an illegal arrest and detention. And Reason should be reimbursed for legal expenses caused by the illegal arrest. The sooner these issues can be resolved the better, but in no event should this matter drag on beyond the next meeting of the Taxicab Commission on July 13.

You can download Corn-Revere's full letter, which outlines just why the arrest of Epstein and Tucker was an outrageous act against basic constitutional rights. It's attached near the top of this post as a PDF file. As of this posting, Reason and Corn-Revere have yet to receive any official response.

And remember to come back tomorrow for Reason.tv's expose of a proposed taxicab medallion system that will punish individual cab drivers and hike fares.

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Photo: Paul Perrin

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