Newmark Alum Wins First Amendment Case over 2016 Arrest While Reporting on Protests

  • By Newmark J-School Staff
Karen Savage
Karen Savage portrait
Karen Savage

The city of Baton Rouge settled a First Amendment federal case with Karen Savage, a Class of 2016 graduate and adjunct instructor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. The settlement acknowledged that its police officers violated her press freedoms when they handcuffed her and put her in jail for 24 hours while covering a protest in response to a police killing in 2016

The legal battle finally came to an end on Feb. 15, 2023 when the Baton Rouge Metro Council approved the $1.17 million settlement with Savage, journalist Cherri Foytlin, and 12 protesters who were subject to mass arrests following the 2016 police killing of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man who was selling CDs outside a convenience store.

Savage and fellow J-School graduate Marco Poggio had been reporting as summer interns for The Tow Foundation-funded Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Savage was arrested despite identifying herself as a member of the press.

“What I witnessed and experienced while reporting that day was an egregious display of violence by the Baton Rouge Police Department on individuals who were peacefully protesting the police killing of Alton Sterling,” Savage said following the announcement of the settlement. “For me, this case was never about the money, but about doing everything possible to ensure that no peaceful protester, journalist, or Baton Rouge resident be treated like that ever again.”

Daryl Khan, Savage’s Newmark J-School professor and editor at the time of the arrest, said: “This is a huge victory. What Karen and Marco were doing that day goes to the core of our mission as journalists. And it’s a reminder of why James Madison went out of his way to protect our profession in the First Amendment. A vibrant, uncowed press is a pillar of a free society, regardless of your politics or ideology. When that right is threatened, when reporters can’t do their job because they’re sitting in jail, then we’re all in big trouble.”