Fuerza Pública officers manhandled and then detained a contract reporter for A.M. Costa Rica because he was video recording police activity in an early morning sweep in Barrio California Friday.
A police officer approached the reporter from behind and slapped his cell telephone and caused it to fall to the ground. Then an officer mocked the reporter for filming police activities before arresting him.
They took him in a paddy wagon to an administrative office about 400 meters south of Avenida Central in Barrio San Antonio on Avenida 8 between calles 31 and 33. They held him there for about
20 minutes while officers are believed to have viewed and then wiped clean the memory chip from the cell telephone that was used to record them.
The reporter is Rommel Téllez, who frequently submits major news stories to A.M. Costa Rica and other titles owned by the same company.
He was having a late-night drink with a friend in a Barrio California bar when he responded as news
people should do when he saw the police activity. He is a member of the journalists union.
He said later that an estimated 16 police officers were stopping and frisking other young people who they found in the area. They also were believed to be entering nightspots to question people found there.
Police frequently conduct these warrantless searches, sometimes in conjunction with immigration agents. Téllez said he did not see any individuals who were not Fuerza Pública officers.
The 129-pound reporter said he did not have credentials but he did identify himself as a reporter. He said what he was doing was a legal activity that anyone could do. He also said he was respectful and followed the instructions of officers.
They took him to an office that was hitherto unknown to him and was not known to other newspaper employees. The office appears to be a repository of identification information.
Téllez said he was nervous when he realized that he was not being taken to a police station. The Barrio Dent police station is about 400 meters from the obscure office.
The reporter said he was not handcuffed or booked, and his photo and fingerprints were not taken. He did not know if others were treated similarly.
There was no official report from the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública later Friday, suggesting that the raid was not coordinated with top officials. Téllez said he was not informed of any search warrant that allowed police to view the images on his telephone. He praised his Huawei brand cell telephone for having taken the impact of being slapped to the ground. Police eliminated all the data on the telephone’s memory chip, including saved telephone numbers.
They most certainly spotted telephone numbers of leading politicians and police officials with whom the reporter has frequent conversations in pursuit of news.
Newspaper executives instructed Téllez to file a complaint with the Judicial Investigating Organization for assault, kidnapping, abuse of authority and vandalism. He said Sunday he did file a complaint and said he had obtained the services of a lawyer from the journalists union. He said he also filed an amparo, an appeal, with the Sala IV constitutional court expressing the urgency of recovery of the files taken from the memory card as the reputation and sensitive information from sources at risk of a leak. Such a leak could cause irreparable damage, he said.
He said he also planned to present this complaint personally to the minister of security, Gustavo Mata, and ask if this was an approved police operation or a rogue effort.
Police officers have been accused in the past of aggression against citizens who took their photos or recorded their activities.
Last October the constitutional court found in favor of a young man who was treated similarly by police for recording their activities involving the arrest of a third party.
The latest case was in March when a middle-aged woman underwent treatment for bruises at a local hospital. She said police inflicted the bruises while she was recording their treatment of a street person in the vicinity of Mercado Borbón in San José.