[News] Puerto Rico - Congressmen seek investigation into FBI-press altercation

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Fri Feb 17 15:17:31 EST 2006


Congressmen seek investigation into FBI-press altercation
    * Three broadcast journalists covering an FBI 
raid are asking local police to investigate what 
they claim was excessive use of force against them.

AP Photo

FBI agents use pepper spray on reporters on Feb. 10.

Feb. 17, 2006  ·   Three U.S. congressmen asked 
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller this week to 
launch an investigation into what they say was 
excessive use of force against journalists 
covering an FBI raid in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico Feb. 10.

FBI agents dispersed pepper spray on more than 10 
journalists -- including television reporter 
Normando Valentin, cameraman Victor Sanchez and 
radio reporter Joel Lago -- who were covering one 
of six raids on the island targeting a militant 
Puerto Rico independence group, The San Juan Star reported.

The journalists, three of whom had to be 
hospitalized, dispute the FBI account, alleging 
that in addition to the spray, the agents jumped 
on and hit the journalists, the Star reported. 
Three journalists have filed complaints with local police.

Special Agent Harry Rodriguez, an FBI spokesman 
in San Juan, declined to comment.

FBI officials said they were forced to use the 
pepper spray because the journalists "refused to 
comply with a lawful order to remove themselves 
from a crime scene," said FBI spokesman Bill Carter.

"The First Amendment does not guarantee the press 
a constitutional right to crime scenes when the 
general public is excluded," Carter said.

Three congressmen of Puerto Rico origin -- Reps. 
Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), Luis V. Gutierrez 
(D-Ill.) and Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) -- wrote 
Mueller Tuesday asking for an investigation to 
determine whether the FBI's actions were "excessive or unwarranted."

"We are particularly troubled by what appeared to 
be the excessive use of force against members of 
the press as they attempted to cover the FBI 
operation," the congressmen wrote Mueller. "Video 
of the incident has been aired extensively in 
television coverage of the day's events and it 
widely available on the Internet."

Puerto Rico Police Chief Pedro Toledo criticized 
the FBI's use of pepper spray as "completely 
outside of the norm," Serrano and his colleagues wrote.

"In our democracy, the most fundamental 
obligations is law enforcement agencies in to 
uphold the constitutional rights of citizens as 
well as to protect the freedom of the press," the 
letter continued. "Even in Puerto Rico, where the 
Bureau and its agents have a reputation for 
behaving as if they are above the law, the FBI is 
not exempt from these duties."

Carter declined comment on the letter, which 
Mueller had not replied to by Friday morning. 
"The director will respond to the concerns in the 
letter . . . " Carter said. "Far be it from us to 
respond to the congressmen in the press."

-- KM

© 2006 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the 
Press   ·   Return to: 
Home; <http://www.rcfp.org/news/2006//news>News Page

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