An LGBT journalist covering protests over Ferguson in downtown Atlanta in November filed a federal lawsuit against Atlanta police, who arrested and detained him as he attempted to photograph officers arresting protesters.
The lawsuit from John Ruch, filed Sept. 21, alleged that the Nov. 25 arrest violated his constitutional rights. It's one of three lawsuits filed on the same day from gay Atlanta attorney Dan Grossman, Gerald Weber of the Southern Center for Human Rights and Decatur attorney Hollie Manheimer asserting that police violated their constitutional rights and illegally arrested them.
“As a result of Plaintiff's arrest, he suffered a loss of his liberty, reputational damage, humiliation, and physical and emotional distress,” according to Ruch's lawsuit.
Ruch is an LGBT journalist who has freelanced for Atlanta media outlets, including Project Q, and who just weeks before the arrest enjoyed his first Atlanta Pride. But last November, he was covering the unrest in downtown Atlanta for Creative Loafing. When Ruch attempted to use his phone to photograph officers arresting protesters, an officer blocked his view and later arrested him.
Photographing or filming police activity is legal and it's an issue that landed Atlanta police in federal court earlier this year.
Ruch was one of two news photographers arrested that night. The charges against both men were later tossed out by a magistrate judge during a court hearing the next day.
On Sept. 21, a report by 11 Alive included aerial drone footage that undercuts the Atlanta police description of what led to Ruch's arrest. In an incident report, Atlanta police say Ruch walked along Spring Street and “impeded vehicular traffic.” An arrest citation given to Ruch says he refused to clear the area when officers were engaged in a fight with protesters.
But the 11 Alive report showed drone footage of Atlanta police closing the street to vehicular traffic and that Ruch took just three steps in the street to move around someone before returning to the sidewalk. The footage also showed no fight taking place when Ruch briefly stepped into the street and returned to the sidewalk before two officers converged on him and ordered him to the ground.
“The police gave two different and conflicting accounts of why they arrested John. Neither of them are true based on the video,” Grossman told 11 Alive.
The lawsuit claims officers took hours deciding how to charge Ruch.
“Obviously they could not articulate a crime that I had committed because I didn't commit one,” Ruch told 11 Alive.
Despite the drone footage, Atlanta police maintain that Ruch's arrest was “proper and necessary.” Via the Daily Report:
Atlanta police spokeswoman Elizabeth Espy said in an email to the Daily Report that in Ruch's case, police still contend that, even though the charges against the reporter were dismissed, “APD maintains, as it has previously, that Mr. Ruch was blocking the roadway and thus his arrest was entirely proper and necessary to preserve public safety.” She declined to comment on the other two complaints.
Ruch's lawsuit also cited the police agency's continued refusal to abide by a consent order reached in an earlier lawsuit over the public photographing police activity. The lawsuit alleged that at the time of Ruch's arrest, Atlanta police had failed to revise its Standard Operating Procedures to reflect the conditions of the consent order.
In April, the city admitted in federal court that they didn't comply with the order mandating that officers are trained not to interfere with someone lawfully recording them. A week later, the city told a federal judge it hadn't implemented some reforms to its police department that it agreed to in the wake of the Eagle bar raid. Grossman and Weber pushed for – and received – a contempt order against the city in that case.
Grossman told the Daily Report that Ruch's arrest again showed deficiencies in Atlanta police training. In August, Grossman exposed a series of slides used to train Atlanta police recruits that included homophobic and anti-trans material, along with outdated information about the state's sodomy law. Atlanta police later apologized. In May, the city paid Baton Bob $20,000 to settle a federal lawsuit over his June 2013 arrest.