A journalist who was detained and pressured by police to delete video at Atlanta’s public safety training center site has filed a federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations he contends are part of a pattern of retaliation against free speech, says the Saporta Report. The detention last year of Michael Watchulonis while covering the “Defend the Atlanta Forest” protests was among many such complaints about First Amendment violations by Atlanta and state police. Watchulonis, an Atlanta-based independent filmmaker and producer, previously said he was detained and interrogated by police for more than 90 minutes on June 15, 2022, at the training center site while working on a film about the protesters.
An Atlanta Police Department officer and an unidentified officer named Mike who Watchulonis believes was a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, pressured the filmmaker at length to delete his footage under threat of arrest. Watchulonis provided edited and captioned video of the incident, which included the officers claiming the footage was “illegal” and Mike adding, after releasing him, “I’m sure our paths will probably cross again down the road.” The lawsuit alleges the officers also forced Watchulonis to be photographed before leaving. “The most disturbing part of my detention was being brazenly lied to and threatened by senior APD officers in front of more than a dozen junior officers with body cams recording,” Watchulonis said. “It was a dark classroom lesson in how to violate a journalist’s rights.”