Calif. student journalist arrested while covering riot for newspaper

Cameron Burns charged with unlawful assembly, obstructing a public place

CALIFORNIA -- A student multimedia journalist was released from jail 20 hours after being arrested while filming a peaceful protest that turned into a dangerous riot.

Cameron Burns, an 18-year-old reporter with the University of California - Berkeley's student newspaper the Daily Californian, was arrested March 4. Burns said he followed a group of protestors he was filming with his portable video camera onto a highway on-ramp. Protestors were demonstrating against education budget cuts and tuition increases in California.

Burns said he followed a group of 150 people that split off from the other protestors for about 10 minutes until he realized the group was on the freeway and he tried to get out of the way.

"I went to the back of the group and tried to ask the policemen how to get off, 'what should I do, I am a reporter,' but they weren't listening they just saw us as a bunch of hooligans on the freeway and they needed to get us off," Burns said.

The next day, Burns was released from Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Calif. He is charged with unlawful assembly (Cal. Penal Code 407) and obstructing a public place (Cal Penal Code 647.C) and his arraignment is set for April 6, Daily Californian Editor-in-Chief William Kane said. The majority of the group that veered onto the freeway were arrested, Kane said.

The Daily Californian is seeking advice from the university's public affairs office and California Senator Leeland Yee's staff, and is in the process of obtaining an attorney, Kane said.

"I am hoping that if the [Alameda County District Attorney] sees the press and the articles -- a lot of people have picked up on this story -- that they will flag it themselves and Cameron will get a nice letter saying that the charges have been dropped," Kane said.

Alameda County Sheriff's Department did not return phone calls by press time.

Burns forgot his Daily Californian press pass during the protest and said at the time, he thought the police could tell him apart from the other protestors because he wasn't wearing a bandana like the majority of the crowd, or inciting the police. He said in hindsight he realizes he should not have stepped onto the on-ramp without his press pass.

"Then again, I don't think the press pass that I had would have been paid attention to by the police officers because the camera I had was this little Flip video camera and the [professional] news people like NBC, ABC, CBS they would have larger cameras with the corporate logo on it," Burns said.

University of California - Berkeley Executive Director of Public Affairs Dan Mogulof said police departments outside the university may not honor Daily Californian press passes.

Another issue that needs to be resolved "is that the students working for the student newspaper are also credentialed in a way wherein if they are covering protests off campus that might be under the jurisdiction of a separate law enforcement agency that this kind of thing doesn't happen again," Mogulof said.

Kane said he hopes the district attorney will honor the fact that even though Burns did not have his press pass, he was there to cover the story.

"We want to make it very clear to everyone that Cameron was on the job, he was a journalist, he wasn't there to participate in the protest, he was there to cover [it] objectively and doesn't deserve to be penalized for that," Kane said.

California, Daily Californian, news, University of California Berkeley