UCI Law School Clinic Demands Return of Student Journalist’s Camera Memory Card and Cell Phone


IRVINE, Calif. (Nov. 6, 2020) – The University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law) Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology (IPAT) Clinic submitted a letter to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva demanding the return of a student journalist’s cell phone and camera memory card, which the clinic contends were unlawfully seized by deputies.

IPAT sent a letter this week on behalf of Pablo Unzueta, a 26-year-old reporter and photographer for the Cal State Long Beach newspaper, the Daily 49er, demanding the return of his cell phone and camera memory card. The devices were seized by LASD deputies on September 8, 2020, when Mr. Unzueta was covering a demonstration in South Los Angeles protesting the shooting of Dijon Kizzee.

Mr. Unzueta was arrested for allegedly failing to disperse after deputies declared the protest an unlawful assembly. His camera equipment and cell phone were confiscated by the deputies during the arrest. Since then, only his camera, without its memory card, has been returned. LASD claims that there never was a memory card.

“There is no legal basis to withhold Mr. Unzueta’s iPhone and memory card,” the clinic says in the letter. “It defies belief that Mr. Unzueta would not have had a memory card in his camera while actively photographing the protest.”

The letter argues that the continued withholding of Mr. Unzueta’s equipment is a violation of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, the Privacy Protection Act, and California law. Additionally, Mr. Unzueta claims that deputies shouted a homophobic slur at him and appeared to use their personal cell phones to snap photographs of him and other arrestees when they were handcuffed in the back of a truck.

The student journalist denies the failure-to-disperse allegation and has not been charged by the Los Angeles district attorney’s office. The sheriff’s department has failed to provide Mr. Unzueta with a copy of his arrest report despite multiple requests.

The Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic provides free legal assistance to journalists, independent filmmakers, and artists to safeguard the First Amendment right of free expression and a free press. The letter was written by Professor Susan E. Seager and law students Paniz Arab and Benjamin Whittle.

About the University of California, Irvine School of Law

The University of California, Irvine School of Law is a visionary law school that provides an innovative and comprehensive curriculum, prioritizes public service, and demonstrates a commitment to diversity within the legal profession. UCI Law students have completed more than 100,000 hours of pro bono work in the past decade. Forty-eight percent of UCI Law’s graduates are students of color. At UCI Law, we are driven to improve our local, national, and global communities by grappling with important issues as scholars, as practitioners, and as teachers who are preparing the next generation of leaders. The collaborative and interdisciplinary community at UCI Law includes extraordinary students, world-renowned faculty, dedicated staff, engaged alumni, and enthusiastic supporters. More information on UCI Law is available here. Please follow us on Twitter and Instagram @ucilaw.

Media Contact:

Professor Susan E. Seager
(310) 890-8991