Journalist loses lawsuit against CHP

KGO logo
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Northern California photojournalist Steve Eberhard
Northern California photojournalist Steve Eberhard, who is suing the California Highway Patrol for allegedly violating his constitutional rights, will soon get his day in court.
The Willits News

WILLITS, Calif. (KGO) -- A newspaper photojournalist, arrested while covering a protest at the Willits Bypass freeway project in Mendocino County, has lost his lawsuit against the California Highway Patrol.

Steve Eberhard, with The Willits News in Mendocino County, sued the CHP and three officers, claiming they were trying to stop him from covering the controversial project and chill his First Amendment Rights.

The trial in federal court in San Francisco lasted five days, ending Monday when a jury found the CHP officers did not intend to violate Eberhard's constitutional rights.

Eberhard was disappointed in the verdict.

"My attorney told me it was going to be hard to prove intent," he said. "And so it is."

According to Courthouse News Service, the trial included "video evidence of CHP officials saying journalists would be the first people arrested during protests, as well as internal emails calling press coverage 'counterproductive' and seeking to restrict media access to the construction site."

Eberhard claimed the CHP was harassing and intimidating him for months leading up to his arrest on July 23, 2013. On that day, Eberhard arrived at the construction site early in the morning to photograph protesters who had locked themselves to construction equipment. He was arrested soon after he walked onto the site and identified himself to a CHP officer as a news photographer. The CHP said he was taken into custody for trespassing, but the Mendocino District Attorney declined to prosecute.

Caltrans, which is in charge of the Willits Bypass project, required the news media be accompanied by an escort at the construction site. Eberhard said he telephoned before he arrived to request an escort, but the call was not returned.

The CHP is not commenting on the verdict. Eberhard has not decided whether to appeal.

Eberhard's photos have appeared on ABC7 News many times in our coverage of the $300 million Willits Bypass, a six mile stretch of freeway that will route traffic around the town of Willits.

For our full coverage on the Willits Bypass click here.

Written by Jennifer Olney