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Los Angeles Settles Lawsuit Over Undercover Officer Photos

The Los Angeles Police Department headquarters building is seen downtown Los Angeles, July 8, 2022. The city of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $300,000 to cover the lawyer fees of a local journa

Los Angeles has agreed to pay $300,000 to cover the legal fees of a local journalist and a technology watchdog group that were sued by the city last year. The lawsuit was in response to the publication of photos and information of hundreds of undercover officers obtained through a public records request.

The release of the photos sparked backlash from Los Angeles police officers and their union, who claimed it jeopardized the safety of those working undercover and in sensitive assignments related to gangs, drugs, and sex traffickers.

The city attorney's lawsuit against the journalist and the watchdog group was criticized by media rights experts and a coalition of newsrooms as an infringement on free speech and press freedoms.

The journalist had requested the LAPD's roster, including photos and personal information of officers, through a public records request. City officials inadvertently released the photos and data of undercover officers to the journalist.

The watchdog group utilized the records to create an online searchable database called Watch the Watchers.

After the city filed a lawsuit to retrieve the photographs, which had already been made public, a settlement was reached following mediation between the city, the journalist, and the watchdog group.

The settlement signifies the city's acknowledgment that once documents are provided to a reporter, they cannot be reclaimed through legal action afterward.

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition emphasized that the case was about the public's relationship to state violence, not just about the photographs.

As part of the settlement, the city will withdraw demands for the return of images of officers in sensitive roles, removal of the images from the internet, and refraining from future publication. The settlement is pending approval by the City Council and mayor.

The journalist expressed satisfaction with the settlement, highlighting its significance for public transparency and upholding the First Amendment.

However, the journalist and the watchdog group still face a separate lawsuit from the city attorney's office, seeking damages for LAPD officers affected by the photo release.

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