Governments under scrutiny over press credentials

By Elliot Spagat

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 10 2013 10:06 p.m. MDT

In some states, like Washington and Virginia, journalism groups decide who gets passes. The Wisconsin Capital Correspondents Association disbanded in December, leaving the job to lawmakers after some reporters complained that vetting for credentials was too time-consuming.

The San Diego Police Department's policy requires a regular presence in the region, being published at least once a month for six months and demonstrating a need to cross police and fire lines.

Freelancer James "J.C." Playford sued city and county officials in September for being denied access, alleging violations of constitutional rights to a free press and against illegal search and seizure. Playford is often among the first to arrive on fast-breaking stories, pitching his work to news organizations, including The Associated Press.

Playford, a house painter from suburban Ramona who turned to journalism in 2007, has clashed repeatedly with law enforcement officers and had equipment seized after police refused to renew his credential in 2010.

In May, a San Diego jury convicted him of a misdemeanor charge of resisting an officer at the scene of a bomb threat at an office of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa. Prosecutors say he ignored officers' orders to move. They knocked a cell phone out of his hand, fearing it was a remote detonator, and he cursed them as he was taken into custody.

Playford faces the same charge over his behavior at the scene of traffic wreck in May. In a video he shot and posted online, Playford angrily demands officers identify themselves on camera, explain why they were keeping him at a distance and threatens to retaliate in court.

"He's extremely rough around the edges," said Edward Peruta, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit and owner of American News and Information Services Inc., a small company that sells video to news outlets and gave Playford a company credential.

Lt. Andra Brown, a San Diego police spokeswoman, said Chief William Lansdowne was unavailable to comment on the lawsuit or the policy. She said the department was reviewing its policy and that ending credentials was one possibility. Lansdowne and other defendants have asked a judge to dismiss the complaint.

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