Criminal case against student photographer ends after settlement





CALIFORNIA -- A San Francisco State University student photographer's legal troubles are over, now that the charges against him were dropped in May.

Omar Vega, a sophomore journalism major, has been at the center of a conflict with the university and San Francisco police that started after Vega took pictures of students allegedly breaking into a car and stealing some of its contents.

Vega had been taking photos of the daily lives of first-year students on the night of October 24, 2004, when he followed as several students found the keys to a car, entered the car and then stole belongings from it, according to San Francisco State University's student newspaper, the Golden Gate Xpress.

Vega, who says he was only taking pictures of the incident and did not participate in any crime, was arrested on Feb. 9 for his alleged involvement in the break-in.

Vega settled in a civil compromise with the court and the charges were dropped. Vega and the students photographed breaking into the car agreed to pay the car owner approximately $300 for the damages.

Vega's lawyer, Emilia Mayorga, said she was pleased with the settlement as the charges were cleared from his record.

''It's a good result for Omar in the end,'' Mayorga said.

Dennis Dunleavy, an assistant professor of photography at San Jose State University who has followed Vega's case since it began, said he is worried that the issue of freedom for student journalists at San Francisco State University is still unresolved.

''It might be the best situation for [Vega] but it's not the best situation for student journalists,'' Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy said because Vega paid the money along with the other students charged, he is essentially saying that he was acting as part of the break-in and not a student journalist simply taking pictures of the events.

''I'm happy it's resolved, but I wish there was some clarity on exactly what he is perceived as,'' Dunleavy said.


California, Fall 2005, Golden Gate Express, reports, San Francisco State University