California journalist arrested while covering homeless camp sues Sausalito police

"I honestly don't feel the treatment and the disrespect and disregard for me would have happened if I were White"
SAUSALITO, Calif. -- An independent journalist is fighting back after he was arrested last November while covering a homeless camp in Northern California.

Journalist Jeremy Portje was arrested and had his video camera and cell phone seized while working on a documentary about life at the Marinship homeless encampment in Sausalito.

Cell phone video shows Portje during the arrest. The journalist was released on $15,000 bond. The charges against him have since been dropped.

But Portje, who said his shoulder was injured during the arrest, is not ready to drop the incident. On Monday, he announced a lawsuit against both the city of Sausalito and the Sausalito Police Department. He said the police who arrested him violated his first amendment rights as a journalist.

"I was just documenting the police interaction with the homeless because part of the story is their treatment of the homeless and their disregard," Portje told our sister station, KGO-TV, after his press conference at Sausalito City Hall.

The arrest happened on Nov. 30 at Marinship Park, a city-sanctioned homeless camp that's been at the center of a heated debate in Sausalito over how to handle the homeless crisis. Many of the camp's residents had previously lived in boats anchored in the bay, but those vessels had been deemed illegal and destroyed. Residents moved to nearby Dunphy Park until last year when the city mandated they relocate to the Marinship site. Portje was filming an incident between a resident and Sausalito police when he was arrested.

"There were no warnings, no get out of here, no you're in the way," he recalled. "I honestly don't feel the treatment and the disrespect and disregard for me would have happened if I were White."

After the arrest, Sausalito Police Chief John Rohrbacher told the Marin Independent Journal that Portje pushed a police sergeant twice then thrust a camera into the sergeant's face, causing a black eye and small cut. Sausalito PD has not released body camera footage from the incident. The cell phone video posted online does not show the moments leading up to the arrest.

But Portje, and his attorney Charles Bonner, say that didn't happen.

"The police officers continue to violate the rights of journalists and that's why this lawsuit has to reinforce that right," Bonner said.

In a statement, the Sausalito City Manager Chris Zapata told ABC7 News that they were aware of the allegations Portje made against the Sausalito Police Department.

"There has been a review of credible evidence in this matter and we have found no information to support any indication that this incident was about race as alleged," Zapata said. " The City has not yet received the lawsuit. When we receive it we will carefully review and comment as appropriate at that time."

The homeless advocates who attended Portje's press conference said they also hope the incident brings awareness to the treatment of homeless people in Sausalito

"What is going on here is the epitome of systemic racism and socioeconomic bias," Sharlie Froberg, a Sausalito resident who advocates for the Marinship residents, said.

Portje said he wants police to be held accountable and for the city to create an independent review board to review police interactions.

"There's no accountability for the Sausalito Police Department," he said.

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