Lawyers: Memphis reporter’s arrest was retaliation
A new legal filing in the case of detained reporter Manuel Duran alleges the Memphis Police Department targeted him for arrest at an April 3 protest because he previously published stories critical of the agency.
“The actions pursued by government officials in this case threaten core First Amendment freedoms that are essential to our democracy: the right to criticize and expose the actions of government officials, and the right of members of the press to write and publish about them,” the legal filing begins.
A police affidavit says Duran was arrested during the protest because he refused commands to leave the street. He was one of nine arrested that day.
“At no time do we target individuals based on their criticism and/or opinion of the Memphis Police Department,” department spokeswoman Lt. Karen Rudolph wrote in an email. “As it relates specifically to the arrests at 201 Poplar Avenue, the officers responded to an unpermitted protest, issued lawful orders, made probable cause arrests, and acted within their authority.”
The other eight arrested were released on bond and most of their cases are still pending. On April 5, local prosecutors dropped charges against Duran.
But federal immigration agents picked up Duran and transported him to an immigration detention center in Jena, Louisiana, where he remains.
The new federal petition, filed Friday in Louisiana by the Southern Poverty Law Center, seeks Duran’s release on several constitutional grounds.
It says Memphis police retaliated against Duran for stories he produced for his online Spanish-language outlet Memphis Noticias. The legal filing cites a July 2017 Facebook post about allegations of cooperation between local police and immigration enforcement at a traffic stop.
“Following that publication, a Memphis police officer sent (Duran) a text message asking him to take down the story and meet with a senior official in the department,” the legal filing said.
Memphis police have long said that they don’t cooperate with immigration enforcement.
The federal petition also cites Duran’s coverage this year of the case of the Mexican immigrant whose body was overlooked and found weeks later in a Memphis police impound lot.
The petition also says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows a pattern of retaliation against activists.
ICE spokesman Bryan D. Cox on Monday referred to an earlier statement that contends Duran missed his day in Atlanta immigration court in 2007. Based on the absence, the court ordered him deported. ICE says he has lived in the U.S. illegally since then.
Duran’s attorneys have asked the Atlanta immigration court to reopen the case, saying he didn’t receive notice and that he’d face danger as a reporter in El Salvador.
Duran’s legal team and supporters held a news conference Monday on a lawn outside the Criminal Justice Center at 201 Poplar.
“The Memphis Police Department unjustifiably arrested Manuel Duran,” said Mauricio Calvo of Latino Memphis. “The sheriff ’s office held him unjustly as well.”
The Shelby County Sheriff ’s Office issued a statement days ago that says in part, “By state law, whenever a person is booked into a jail, the person is asked about the country of birth and citizenship.”
“Information must be provided to ICE if the jailer cannot determine the person’s citizenship status or if the person appears to be in violation of the Immigration and Naturalization Act.”
Reach reporter Daniel Connolly at 529-5296, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @danielconnolly.
Melisa Valdez (left) partner of Manuel Duran, reads a letter penned by him from a immigration detention center in Louisiana, during a press conference giving an up to his immigration case. MARK WEBER/THE