Phoenix SPJ chapter joins other Arizona media organizations in statement about confiscation of reporter’s cell phone

The Valley of the Sun chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists joined the Arizona Latino Media Association and the Asian American Journalists Association-Arizona chapter in issuing following statement in June 2021:

The Valley of the Sun (Phoenix) professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Arizona Latino Media Association (ALMA), and the Asian American Journalists Association–Arizona chapter strongly oppose the actions of Gilbert police officers who seized the cellular telephone of an Arizona journalist who was covering a legitimate news event April 29: the death of a Chandler police officer and the injury of a Gilbert police officer.

The organizations support the demands of reporter León Felipe González of Univision Arizona, filed within his June 3 motion in Gilbert Municipal Court, that Gilbert police immediately return the phone undamaged and with no attempts to gain access to any information within it. We stand behind González and his employer, Univision Arizona, in their assertion that González was acting fully within his rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution while covering the story and that the actions by Gilbert police were unwarranted and improper.

González has filed his 28-page motion seeking the return of the phone, alleging that Gilbert police violated his First Amendment right as a journalist to cover a legitimate news event unhindered and his Fourth Amendment right to protect his personal property from seizure without due process of law. We agree with the motion’s assertion that González’s phone, which contains personal information and journalistic work product, is protected by the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 and other statutes.

When police impede the lawful and peaceful efforts of journalists to cover law enforcement activities, they deny the public its constitutionally protected right to know how tax-supported police officers conduct themselves in the performance of their official duties. At the time police confiscated his phone, González was lawfully performing that function.

When law enforcement agencies seize journalists’ personal property, they are almost always found to have acted improperly and then they apologize and return the confiscated items. The SPJ-Phoenix and ALMA sincerely hope that this will be the position immediately taken by the Gilbert Police Department.

The Arizona Broadcasters Association also stands with the Valley of the Sun professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and has released a similar statement of support: The Arizona Broadcasters Association adamantly supports the critical role played by reporters in covering the news and keeping our communities informed. We are concerned by the allegations against the Univision crew, support the rights of our local press, and call upon the leadership at Gilbert police to closely review the incident.

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ABOUT SPJ: The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry through the daily work of its thousands of members; works to inspire and educate current and future journalists through professional development; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press through its advocacy efforts.

ABOUT THE VALLEY OF THE SUN CHAPTER: Established in 1958, the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix) professional chapter of SPJ celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2018. The chapter regularly sponsors journalism activities and events and social, educational and service activities for professional and student journalists at daily and community newspapers, magazines, broadcast outlets, journalism web sites and media blogs, as well as editors, writers, freelancers, producers, publishers and public relations professionals living and working in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  # # #

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