Government officials violate the First Amendment when they block members of the public or delete comments on social media because they don’t like a speaker’s message, Open Vallejo cautioned through its legal counsel, the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Vallejo Police Department spokesperson Brittany K. Jackson participates in a policing “virtual town hall” on July 23, 2020 in Vallejo. Vallejo’s police union filed an unfair labor complaint in June alleging the city unlawfully hired a civilian to act as the department spokesperson, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by Open Vallejo.
The Vallejo Police Officers’ Association filed the unfair labor charges with the California Public Employment Relations Board, accusing city officials of acting in bad faith when they hired Brittany K. Jackson as the department’s new public information officer in May. The spokesperson role has historically been held by a sworn member of the department. But officers have exacerbated existing controversies over the years, most notably in 2015, when Lieutenant Kenny Park falsely suggested the victim of a kidnapping and sexual assault had staged the crime along with her fiancé. The FBI later arrested Matthew Muller, a disbarred attorney and former Marine, who was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to 40 years in federal prison.
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Open Vallejo is an award-winning, independent, non-partisan, nonprofit newsroom serving the public interest. We seek to illuminate a small city long burdened by police violence, neglect, and corruption. Our core team consists of journalists, First Amendment and open government lawyers, press freedom advocates, data scientists and other subject-matter experts.
As the first project of the Informed California Foundation, Open Vallejo is also a permanent design laboratory for open source, high-impact, broadly-accessible frameworks for ensuring local transparency, accountability, and information justice.
Cynthia Beeman / Ernest J. Gaines Center, University of LouisianaAuthor Ernest J. Gaines in Vallejo. It was always the old folks and their busy ways. Always needing something. Always wanting something. Always looking for something from the young folks. They never would let the children rest or play on their own time.
Open Vallejo has won a 2020 James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter for its work exposing records of police and government misconduct. Founder and Executive Editor Geoffrey King was recognized in the citizen category for Open Vallejo’s “rigorous reporting and relentless use of the California Public Records Act to shine a light on a troubled local government,” SPJ said in a press statement Thursday. Now in their 35th year, the awards celebrate individuals and organizations “who have made significant contributions to advancing freedom of information and/or expression in the spirit of James Madison, the creative force behind the First Amendment.”
Open Vallejo “shed new light on police violence and misconduct last year and forced officials to disclose information they sought to shield from public scrutiny,” SPJ officials wrote. “At a time when there are perilously few journalists reporting in Vallejo, this citizen has provided a beacon of hope to a local community desperately in need of sunshine.”
“We are honored by this award, and for the opportunity to serve our community,” King told the Vallejo Times-Herald. “This project is inspired by values learned here in Vallejo — values like loyalty to community, respect for one’s neighbors, and the importance of speaking truth to power.”
One of Open Vallejo’s earliest milestones was compelling the disclosure of body camera video of Vallejo police officers killing Ronell Foster in 2018 and Willie McCoy last year.