Jonas Lara had been fighting the Los Angeles court system for the better part of this year when he learned that his charges were dropped. PDNPulse reports that Lara was arrested while working on a long-term documentary essay about graffiti writers and charged with trespassing, vandalism, and the destruction of a fence at the location. It’s very similar to Ethan Welty’s case, which we recently wrote about. After appealing to the ACLU, who turned down the case, Lara appealed to friends, family, and colleagues to set up a legal fund so he could fight the bogus charges. Armed with this legal fund, Lara hired a lawyer who hit the ground running with legal challenges to the prosecution’s case. Key evidence had gone missing, and the charges were lessened. Then, after talks with the property owner, Lara agreed to pay a $200 restitution to compensate the property owner for money spent on the cleanup, other charges were dropped, and the judge ordered the Los Angeles Police Department to return Lara’s gear. Crucial to the case, apparently, were letters from Lara’s colleagues affirming his work as a journalist and evidence such as IRS business registration showing that he is a working photojournalist.
I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more cases like this as staff jobs disappear and news organizations shrink. The news will still be gathered, but at much more considerable risk to journalists. Without the institutional and financial support a newspaper, freelancers are stuck out in the cold when legal problems arise. As seen in this case, legal fees can be daunting and criminal charges are frightening; were it not for donations and support from friends, family, and colleagues, the photographer likely would have been unable to fight the bogus charges and escape jail time or get his gear back.