LA Must Pay $300,000 to Photojournalist After Suing Him Over Images of Undercover Officers


The city of Los Angeles will pay $300,000 to a photojournalist after it sued him for publishing hundreds of images of undercover officers that were accidentally given to him by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

In April 2023, the city of Los Angeles sensationally sued documentary photographer and journalist Ben Camacho after the LAPD mistakenly gave him a roster that contained photos of undercover police officers.

Camacho, who is a reporter for Knock LA, provided the images to the group “Stop LAPD Spying Coalition,” which published them online.

Lawyers for the city of Los Angeles had claimed that the release of names, photos, and serial numbers of more than 9,000 LAPD officers in response to a public records request and related litigation filed by Camacho was “inadvertent.”

The city of Los Angeles was demanding that Camacho return the photos of these LAPD officers who serve in undercover assignments as it posed a safety risk to them. It also sued the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition group for posting the images and sought to have the officers’ photos removed from the Coalition’s website.

Camacho filed his own motion against the city of Los Angeles asking a judge to toss out the city’s lawsuit against him and dismiss the case as unconstitutional and retaliatory.

Camacho’s motion alleged that the city’s litigation was an example of a “SLAPP lawsuit” — an improper lawsuit used by public officials as a way to censor or intimidate someone from exercising their free speech.

Constitutional and media rights experts had also widely denounced Los Angeles’ lawsuit against Camacho as an assault against press freedom.

‘A Powerful Lesson’

Now, in a stunning turn of events, the city of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $300,000 to Camacho and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition as part of a tentative settlement to end the lawsuit that it started.

According to The L.A. Times, the agreement, which still needs to be approved by the City Council, Camacho and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition will receive $300,000 for lawyer fees.

Los Angeles has dropped its demands to order Camacho and Stop LAPD Spying Coalition to return the photographs of officers in sensitive roles, to take the images off the internet, and to forgo publishing them in the future.

The L.A. Times reports that the agreement for a settlement will allow both sides to put the matter behind them without conceding any wrongdoing.

Susan Seager, an attorney for Camacho and head of the University of California’s Irvine School of Law’s Press Freedom Project, tells The L.A. Times that the lawsuit “provided a powerful lesson for government agencies: You can’t sue journalists after you willingly give them government records.”

“It’s important to remember that the LAPD did not submit a single piece of evidence that any officers were harmed by the disclosure of these photographs,” Seager adds.

“This was never about officers being harmed by disclosure of their photos. It was always about officers being mad that they be held accountable for their actions.”

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.