U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Los Angeles city attorney files second lawsuit against journalist over records

Incident Details


A portion of a lawsuit filed against Knock LA reporter Ben Camacho on Jan. 16, 2024, attempting to hold him and an advocacy group financially responsible for damages in a class-action suit filed against the Los Angeles Police Department.

January 16, 2024

Journalist Ben Camacho was sued by the City of Los Angeles for the second time on Jan. 16, 2024, in an attempt to hold him and an activist group financially liable in a related suit over the release of police headshots.

Camacho, a reporter and photo editor for the nonprofit community journalism outlet Knock LA, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he had previously filed a public records lawsuit against the city after the Los Angeles Police Department refused to release the personnel headshots of officers.

As part of a settlement agreement in September 2022, the city provided Camacho a printed roster of sworn officers, a flash drive containing 9,310 officers’ photos and a letter explaining that officers working in undercover assignments had been excluded from the disclosures.

After the photos were published online in March 2023 by the activist group, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Camacho said it quickly became apparent that there were more images disclosed than the LAPD had wanted. On March 28, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, a police union, sued the city demanding that it recover the headshots. A week later, a group of rank-and-file officers filed a class-action suit seeking damages for negligence.

The city, in turn, filed its first suit against Camacho and the activist group on April 5 in an attempt to force the return of the photographs and the destruction of any copies. The latest lawsuit seeks to have Camacho and Stop LAPD Spying Coalition held financially liable for the damages sought in the negligence class-action suit.

Camacho told the Tracker that he believes Los Angeles City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto is pursuing the cases against him without clear support from the mayor or city council.

“This is an elected official who isn’t afraid to ignore First Amendment-protected activity, this is someone who is pro-government secrecy, this is someone who is anti-transparency,” Camacho said. “And she’s also not afraid to go after the California Public Records Act.”

Feldstein Soto lobbied in 2023 for an amendment to the public records act that would make identifying information — including photos — of public employees exempt from disclosure. Camacho told the Tracker that such an exemption would enable the LAPD to operate as secret police. The proposal did not come to a vote in 2023 but could be reintroduced.

In a post on social media, Camacho called the new lawsuit “another stain on the office she holds.”

Knock LA expressed its support for Camacho and condemned the lawsuits in a statement posted on its website.

“Throughout what has become a longstanding battle, Feldstein Soto and her legal team have repeatedly violated the constitutional and First Amendment rights of journalists and the public to report on public servants,” the statement read. “As we continue to lose the local news landscape of Los Angeles to corporate greed and mismanagement, this attack on the free and independent press by the city is especially poignant.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].