Monday, April 9, 2018

Southern Poverty Law Center Joins Legal Action to Free Memphis Journalist; Vigil 6 p.m. Tonight

Latino Journalist Manuel Duran reports from an action, minutes before he was arrested in Memphis
Photo by Moore Media Images
Why did Multi-Agency Gang Unit choose Manuel Duran?   Photo by Moore Media Images
The Southern Poverty Law Center has joined with Latino Memphis to begin the legal battle to fight the deportation of Memphis journalist Manuel Duran.

“SPLC successfully filed a motion to reopen his immigration case,” said attorney Christy Swatzell of Latino Memphis.

The Atlanta Executive Office for Immigration Review, a division of the Department of Justice, will review the motion.

“Latino Memphis and the SPLC plan to give every last effort to fight his deportation, but there are no guarantees,” Swatzell said.

Officer waves away our camera while roughly arresting
Yuleiny Escobar  Photo by Moore Media Images

“It is important to remember that without the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office continued cooperation with ICE, Mr. Duran would not be fighting for his freedom from behind barbed wire, hundreds of miles from his home in Memphis,” Swatzell said.

Meanwhile, supporters are planning a candlelight vigil in Memphis for Tuesday night at 6 at El Mercadito, 3766 Ridgeway Road.


Bill Stegall as ICE agent actor, "prisoner" Yuleiny Escobar
Photo by Moore Media Images
Duran was arrested Tuesday April 3  -- one day before the MLK50 anniversary in Memphis – while wearing his press credentials and reporting outside the Shelby County Justice Center. Duran was covering a “street theater” action against ICE prison abuses. Charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway were dropped by Shelby County prosecutors two days later, but not before Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents filed an “ICE hold,” or detainer warrant, and took him from the Shelby County Jail upon his release.
"Chain gang" of ICE "prisoners"
Photo by Moore Media Images

Duran was fast-tracked for deportation by the Trump administration, which likely has begun targeting journalists among its harsh immigration policies, and sent directly to LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, LA, bypassing the routine steps of being detained in a Memphis facility for a few days, then transported to a facility in Mason, Tennessee, about 30 miles outside Memphis.

Officer grabs Zyanya Cruz
Photo by Moore Media Images
Sources advised us that orders specifically to seize Duran had come from “the top,” meaning high up in Washington. Other reports indicate that the Trump administration is gathering intelligence on journalists who cover political subjects that negatively portray Trump and his policies. We believe it is likely that Duran was targeted while he was on the street – not just after he was arrested – while FBI and other federal agencies were in Memphis for the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder April 4, 1968.

Mayor Jim Strickland faces an angry crowd
Photo by Moore Media Images
After a chilly, windy march on Saturday April 7 from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church to City Hall, shouts of “Free Manuel” rang out from the crowd as Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland spoke. Strickland was challenged to respond to the arrest of Duran and brutal arrest of three women who were near him. Police pulled their hair, dragged them on the street, twisted their arms and grabbed their breasts in making the arrests.

Strickland did not say a word, and after he was scalded in remarks by Edie Love of Standing Up for Racial Justice, Strickland turned away from the crowd and went inside the warmer confines of City Hall.

Although Duran’s family had posted bond at about 9 Tuesday night, he was held in custody – the only one of nine defendants to not be released after Tuesday’s street theater.  Female actors were chained together and led by an ICE agent actor to call attention to forced labor put upon persons who are imprisoned as allegedly being undocumented immigrants.

Duran was not acting in a disorderly manner or disrupting traffic or anyone, as we personally witnessed, while he filmed actors after they had crossed Poplar Avenue at a crosswalk, then were heading east on the sidewalk.

Defense attorney Ann Schiller gathered video evidence and presented it to the Shelby County District Attorney’s office Thursday morning. The prosecutor agreed that there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute the charge, Schiller said, and the charges were dropped.

Attorney General Amy Weirich, in a rare move, put out a statement about the suddenly high-profile case:

“This office has dismissed misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway or passageway filed Tuesday against Manuel Duran. There was not sufficient evidence to go forward with prosecution. This ends any legal issues Mr. Duran has with this office." 

Duran was brought from the jail to court on Wednesday morning, but the only “offer” on the table from the prosecutor’s office at that time was a guilty plea. Since there was already a 48-hour detainer warrant in place, Schiller asked to put off Duran’s arraignment until Thursday, reasoning that the additional day to work out a better deal would still come within the 48-hour window.

“He was not even part of the protest,” Schiller said. “He was not rude to officers. He was not fighting them.

“All of a sudden, for some reason, they take him into custody.”

Activists, including the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens, had helped to organize the action to bring attention to private prisons’ profit motives in housing ICE detainees, even allegedly hiring them out for pennies on the day to corporations such as Victoria’s Secret, Sprint and Wal-Mart.

“This was a peaceful demonstration,” Schiller said. “What would have happened if the police had let them finish walking down the sidewalk? I can’t give you a reason why he got taken.”

Schiller and Division 7 Judge Bill Anderson said there appeared to be two plainclothes ICE agents inside the courtroom when Duran’s case was adjudicated.

“We are not holding him on an ICE hold,” Ferrell said Thursday morning before Duran’s case was dismissed. “We are holding him on charges by MPD. We don’t hold people on ICE detainers.” 

After Duran’s case had been dismissed, Farrell said, “I understand there was an ICE hold.” Farrell had failed to mention that when we first spoke. Nonetheless, ICE agents snatched him fairly soon after his case was disposed of, presumably before he would have been processed out of custody under normal conditions.

“There does not appear they (local law enforcement) are required to hold persons on a detainer warrant,” said Swatzell.  “There is nothing that requires them (Shelby County sheriff) to cooperate with ICE.”

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