Manuel Duran, the founder of Spanish-language news site Memphis Noticias, was arrested on April 3, 2018, while reporting on a protest against immigration detention in Memphis, Tennessee. Although the charges against Duran were dropped, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) transferred the reporter to a facility in Louisiana two days after his arrest.
Duran, who previously worked as a television reporter in El Salvador, received a deportation order in 2007, according to an ICE spokesperson.
A filing for habeas corpus from the independent civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) alleges that both the arrest and subsequent ICE detention were retaliatory. Duran had reported critically on both ICE and the Memphis Police Department on his Facebook page and in Memphis Noticias.
Duran fled to the United States in 2006 from El Salvador after he received death threats for his work as a television reporter in El Salvador, according to the SPLC filing.
On April 3, after Duran and eight demonstrators allegedly failed to respond to a police order to clear the area, police charged them with disorderly conduct and "obstruction of a highway or passageway." Duran, who was dressed in business clothes and wearing a press badge, was the only reporter arrested at the event although several others were present, according to the SPLC filing.
Duran's livestream shows a police officer repeatedly shouting "get out of the street" at the camera. In the seconds before the arrest, a voice can be heard saying, "We're going." The SPLC filing identifies this person as Spencer Kaaz, a participant in the protest, and said that he held Duran's shoulder and told police that they were leaving the street, according to the filing.
Despite paying a bond of $100 on April 3, Duran was not released from the Shelby County jail, nor was he released two days later when the Shelby County District Attorney's Office dropped all charges against him. ICE filed an immigration detainer against Duran on April 3, the same day the other detainees were released, according to SPLC.
Duran had been "ordered removed from the United States by a federal immigration judge in January 2007 after failing to appear for his scheduled court date," ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox said in a statement. "He has been an immigration fugitive since that time."
The SPLC filing alleges that Memphis police targeted Duran for arrest and that local authorities turned him over to DHS "in retaliation for his past critical coverage of immigration enforcement activities."
Earlier in April, Duran reported on Memphis Noticias about the body of a murder victim being left in a car for 49 days after the car was impounded by the Memphis police. In July 2017, Duran reported on Memphis Noticias's Facebook page on alleged collaboration between the Memphis Police Department and ICE. Following this publication, the public information officer for Memphis police, Karen Rudolph, sent Duran a text message disputing its accuracy and asking him to take down the post and to meet with the deputy director, James Ryall.
Memphis police director Michael Rallings disputed the idea that Duran was singled out for arrest in a press conference on April 17. "Our officers responded to an unpermitted protest. They gave lawful orders for individuals to move out of the street. They made probable cause arrests and acted well within their authority. They certainly did not target Mr. Duran or anyone else," Rallings said.
Rallings said that the text message to Duran regarding his Facebook post in 2017 was part of routine public relations engagement with the media. He also said in the press conference that the Memphis police department does not notify ICE of immigration status when they arrest individuals.
Rudolph told CPJ that the officers who arrested Duran "did not know of Mr. Duran's identity, place of employment, or that he had covered stories relative to the Memphis Police Department."
In a public statement, the Shelby County Jail said it typically seeks to determine immigration status upon booking, when the city police hand off the suspect to the county sheriff. "By state law, whenever a person is booked into a jail, the person is asked about the country of birth and citizenship," the statement said. "Information must be provided to ICE if the jailer cannot determine the person's citizenship status or if the person appears to be in violation of the Immigration and Naturalization Act."
The SPLC filing said that Duran had also reported critically on ICE and that there were irregularities in his processing and transfer to Louisiana.
Duran was transferred directly from Shelby County jail to the LaSalle Detention Center in Louisiana "in contrast with [the] routine process for Tennessee detainees," according to the filing. In general, ICE detainees spend several days in a short term detention center in Tennessee before being sent to Louisiana, according to SPLC.
ICE told CPJ in an email that Duran was not treated any differently than any other detainee.
In a statement from detention published by SPLC, Duran described difficult conditions. "They keep the lights on day and night and you have to sleep with a towel over your eyes," he wrote. "The visitation hours and your recreation hours happen at the same time so you have to choose between seeing your family and getting some air."