(Editor’s note: Below is a lightly edited excerpt from the lawsuit filed against the City of Sausalito and its police department stemming from the arrest of Jeremy Portje, who claims he was reporting a skirmish at the Marinship Park Tent City when police, with racial intent, stopped his filming, arrested him and hurt him in the process. A police officer was hurt in the tussle, but the District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute Portje because they said they could not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Portje intended to hurt the officer.)
Courts have often had to remind the police that the right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs. The First Amendment protects the rights to gather information about what public officials do and to record matters of public interest)
This case involves the unlawful unsolicited provocation, arrest, beating and seizure of photographic equipment, recordings, and media storage of an African American journalist. Defendant officers intentionally and violently suppressed MR. PORTJE from documenting police activity at Sausalito’s Marinship Park, the site of ongoing resistance and protest in response to the CITY OF SAUSALITO and Marin County’s seizure and destruction of anchor-out boats in Richardson Bay.
Officers consciously and deliberately violated MR. PORTJE’s
constitutional and statutory rights by intentionally obstructing his journalistic reporting on official police actions, undertaking an unprovoked and intentionally predetermined physical assault motivated primarily by MR. PORTJE’s race, fabricating criminal charges that were patently rejected by the District Attorneys’ office, conditioning a baseless and unwarranted ten hour detention, ordering a retaliatory retention of his video camera and protected recordings, and subjecting him to defend against a legally deficient and constitutionally infirm search warrant.
Defendants’ violations of law have not only run roughshod over Portje’s constitutional and statutory rights, but have also heavily inflicted upon him physical, emotional and economic damages, as well as conterminous damages to his wife, AMY PORTJE by diminishing her consortium.
For decades, Sausalito’s Richardson Bay has been the home to not only ‘hippie’ and million dollar houseboats in the marinas but to sailboats and live-aboards anchored out in the midst of the Bay. Residents of these ‘anchored-out’ vessels live a rustic existence that necessitates traveling to and from the bay to the mainland for food, supplies and other basic necessities. While the community of anchored-out vessels have consistently caused the otherwise upscale interests of Sausalito some concern on account of their ‘bohemian’ and ‘lower class’ presentation when considered against Sausalito’s outwardly wealthy and luxurious exterior gloss, the the city of Sausalito’s long standing and festering abhorrence of the anchored-out community took an affirmative turn in or around 2021. At that time, the CITY decided that it would begin to actively enforce their intentionally long disregarded regulation requiring boats to move off anchor within 72 hours. Subsequently, the CITY has undertaken efforts to tag the anchored-out vessels threatening to confiscate and destroy them if their owners failed to remove them from their anchors within 10 days. While resistance to the CITY’s enforcement has ensued, many anchor-out residents have been rendered homeless on account of having to abandon their boats while others remain defiant barricading themselves on board their vessels.
With nowhere left to reside, on or about January 2021, a community of ex-anchor-outs had relocated to Sausalito’s Dunphy Park overlooking Richardson Bay and set up an encampment of tents and other would-be shelters. Thereafter, on or about June 29, 2021, the CITY dismantled that encampment and again with nowhere left to live on account that their homes and community had been confiscated, the anchor-out community moved to Sausalito’s Marinship Park where they presently continue to fight and advocate for their rights.
On or about, November 30, 2021, Portje, a Marin county journalist received a phone call from Timothy Logan, an anchor-out boat owner living at the homeless encampment at Marinship Park whose boat was facing imminent destruction by the city. As part of an ongoing documentary film project that was telling the stories of three Marin County residents experiencing homelessness in the County.
At approximately 4:30 p.m., Timothy Logan and Portje, with camera at hand, arrived at Sausalito’s Army Corp Debris Yard and upon Mr. Logan’s request to access the yard and attempt to legally forestall the destruction of his boat, the Debris Yard’s officials barred entry.
Thereafter, in walking over to Marinship Park which is in close proximity to the Debris Yard and hearing screaming and yelling, Portje and Logan observed ongoing police activity at the park. As part of his journalistic coverage Portje assembled his camera and tripod in order to record the police’s activity
While looking through both his zoom lens and with unmediated sight, Portje noted
Defendant offices huddled together in front of their squad car looking over and pointing in his direction.
Soon thereafter, the officers broke their huddle with Officer Georges setting off determinedly in a straight line in Mr. Portje’s direction. Observing that Georges was approaching him with an officious and aggressive gate, as well as with a facial expression projecting anger and belligerence, Portje was confused as to why Georges was approaching him with such a demeanor, as he had done nothing to upset the officer.
Portje was reasonably fearful, as an armed Caucasian police officer with a gun was approaching him, an African American man, with rage upon his face.
Officer Georges turned his back towards Portje and his camera with a firmly communicated intention of blocking the camera’s lens and thus ‘shuttering’ the camera’s ability to capture footage. Officer Georges pushed his back against the camera lens prompting Portje to exclaim, “what’s going on. What are you doing, Officer? Officer Georges failed to answer, smirking and chewing his gum.
Portje lifted his camera and tripod and moved it to the left in order to free himself and the camera from the backward pressure exerted by Officer Georges. Officer Georges also took a step to the left in order to resume blocking and pushing against Portje.
An altercation was being clearly physically communicated. Portje again responded by
lifting his camera and tripod and stepping to the right to again, free himself and the camera lens from being blocked.
After completing this absurd ‘dance’ of provocation, Georges turned and positioned himself to the front and side of Portje, pressing his body against Portje who exclaimed, “why are you doing this…there’s no reason to stand next to me and watch me shooting.”
In response, Georges turned full frontal and directly lunged at Portje, who responded by grabbing hold of his tripod and back peddled a few steps. In lunging at Portje and grabbing onto the camera’s tripod, Georges struck his face against the camera causing a laceration. Simultaneously, Georges reached up and grabbed Portje’s dreadlocks and began throwing punches, yelling, “stop resisting.’
After allowing Mr. Portje to sit on his knees in full display of the encampment as a clear and unequivocal warning to them, as well as striking an all too frequent pose of an African American defendant seized by a cadre of Caucasian police (clearly the modern embodiment of the gruesome history of slave catchers in the South), defendant officers firmly applied two sets of handcuffs on Portje and after lifting him to his feet, paraded him to the squad car.