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Media Blitz: A Former BART Deputy Is Cleared in a Retaliatory Arrest Case 

Tuesday, Sep 30 2014

What do BART police officers really think of one of their toughest critics?

The question was at the heart of Indybay writer and photographer David Morse's lawsuit against former BART police Deputy Chief Dan Hartwig, which was tried in U.S. District Court last week. Morse, arrested on Hartwig's watch at a protest he was covering in 2011, had written hundreds of articles criticizing BART after its police killed Oscar Grant and Charles Hill, a 45-year-old transient. Morse alleged in his lawsuit that Hartwig singled him out because of his critical reporting.

However, a jury ruled Monday that Hartwig's arrest of Morse was not retaliatory.

2011 was a difficult one for BART. The transit agency's officers shot Hill in July, reigniting tensions caused by the 2009 shooting of Grant. A series of protests over Hill's death clogged downtown stations and gained international attention when BART turned off cellphone service in the stations to disrupt protesters. Morse covered the turmoil around BART, reporting on protests and BART board meetings. "He wrote more about the BART Police Department than anyone else in the country," one of Morse's lawyers, Michael Siegel, noted. "He did this during a period of public criticism for BART."

In court, BART officers said they had followed Morse's work closely — Deputy Chief Benson Fairow testified on Sept. 22 that he had bookmarked some of Morse's reporting on his work computer and had distributed a photograph of Morse to officers prior to the protest. Of the journalists detained at the protest, including reporters from the Chronicle and Bay Guardian, Morse was the only one who was arrested. But BART's lawyer, Dale Allen, argued that Morse wasn't singled out for his unfavorable tone, but rather because he was so good at his job.

Allen argued, "Where Morse is, is where the demonstration is." The decision to distribute Morse's photo, in what Allen mocked in a theatrically spooky voice as a "scary information bulletin," was "nothing more complex than that they wanted to find where the demonstration would be."

The jury agreed, deciding that, despite circulating Morse's photo, Hartwig had not ordered cops to arrest Morse in retaliation for his reporting.

Prior to the jury's decision, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost contends Hartwig had justification to order Morse's arrest. "Police always respect the First Amendment rights of the media, but that doesn't mean journalists can break the law," she says.

About The Author

Kate Conger

Kate Conger has written for SF Weekly since 2011.


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