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Indiana media outlets sue state, Marion County over new 25-foot law enforcement law

Posted at 10:15 PM, Oct 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-06 22:15:39-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Several Indiana media outlets and organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the state’s new law that prohibits individuals from standing within 25 feet of a police investigation.

House Bill 1186 went into effect in July. The law makes it a Class C misdemeanor for people to come within 25 feet of a law enforcement officer during an investigation.

The Indiana Broadcasters Association, Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with local news media outlets, filed a lawsuit against Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears and Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal on Friday.

WRTV’s parent company, Scripps Media, Inc., is joining IndyStar and the parent companies for WXIN, WTHR and WANE in the suit.

The lawsuit claims the new law violates the First Amendment and gives police “limitless, standardless discretion to prevent journalists from approaching near enough to document the way officers perform their duties in public places.”

“The press serves and was designed to serve as a powerful antidote to any abuses of power by government officials and as a constitutionally chosen means for keeping officials elected by the people responsible to all the people whom they were selected to serve. HB 1186 unconstitutionally abridges the press’s ability to fulfill that function,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, there are no exceptions to HB 1186 and can prevent journalists from reporting at a number of different locations, such as a crime scene or political rally.

The lawsuit references the media coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd was killed in 2020.

“That reporting required close contact with members of law enforcement and often relied on videos or photographs captured within 25 feet of officers performing their official duties,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also says 25 feet is often too far for visual journalists to obtain a clear sight of newsworthy events, and it is often too far away to record audio.

“Whenever a journalist receives an order to withdraw while documenting law enforcement activity from a distance of less than 25 feet, that journalist is put to a choice between committing a crime or forgoing reporting,” the lawsuit states.

Additionally, the lawsuit claims HB 1186 is unconstitutionally vague because it “fails to provide the kind of notice that will enable ordinary people to understand what it prohibits and authorizes.”

Rokita, Mears and Forestal have not yet to respond to the lawsuit.