A Memphis-based journalist was just doing his job when he covered a protest in the city in April. However, his seemingly normal day took an unexpected turn when he got arrested by the local police and was later transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s custody.
Manuel Duran, 42, who is sometimes listed as Duran Ortega, claimed he was “without a doubt” targeted by the authorities for his work, according to an interview conducted by The Daily Beast.
According to a police affidavit, along with many other media personnel, Duran was covering a Memphis protest when he was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and refusing orders to clear the street.
Though the local prosecutors dropped the charges two days later, releasing Duncan from the Shelby County jail, ICE agents were waiting outside to arrest him. He was taken to a detention center in Jena, Louisiana, where he remains.
The city’s police department report claimed it was the journalist’s refusal to clear the road that “caused a hazard.” It was also mentioned he didn’t own U.S. identification.
However, Duncan believed things were not that straightforward as the report portrayed.
He strongly felt the police targeted him not just for causing some hazard but also because of his past work that revealed how the city’s police department was collaborating with the ICE.
Last year, Duran uploaded a video interview on his news website, Memphis Noticias. The footage featured a woman whose friend was arrested by Memphis Police and subsequently transferred to ICE custody despite assurances from Mayor Jim Strickland that the city’s government wasn’t working together with the ICE.
“There are three cases already confirmed in some manner in which people are guaranteeing that ‘yes, the Memphis police are involved with immigration where obviously there is this collaboration,’” Duran said in the Spanish-language video.
Memphis police demanded the video to be taken down. Though the journalist refused, he offered them to tell their side of story, which he could also publish on his site.
According to Duncan’s attorney Jeremy Jong, the journalist’s Memphis Noticias has also published other stories that were “embarrassing” for the police department.
For instance, a court petition filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) alleged Duran reported on several cases of police shootings, police brutality, demonstrations calling for law enforcement accountability, local ICE activities which brought hardships on the immigration families etc.
The petition further stated, the “Detention of Mr. Duran Ortega is a direct result of Memphis law enforcement officers’ and ICE officers’ illegal and unconstitutional actions in targeting, arresting, detaining, and seeking to deport Mr. Duran Ortega. MPD unlawfully arrested Mr. Duran Ortega to silence and retaliate against him.”
Jong argued his client was being targeted for working towards government’s transparency.
“He’s the only one that’s doing it for the Spanish-speaking community in Memphis. His absence is a huge loss,” he said.
However, ICE has denied all such claims.
“The allegation that ICE engages in retaliation towards individuals who protest is categorically false. Mr. Duran was arrested [by ICE] because he is in violation of federal immigration law,” said ICE spokesman Bryan D. Cox.
A police official also denied singling out the journalist.
“The question that we targeted Mr. Duran is just false,” he said.
Nevertheless, it is important to mention in the past ICE has attempted to deport Duncan to El Salvador. In 2006 he fled from the Central American country after receiving death threats for reporting on corruption in law enforcement and the judicial system. The petition also mentioned he received an order of removal in 2007 after he missed an immigration hearing. However, he never received a notice of that hearing.
“ICE is targeting people who speak against them,” Jong told the outlet, “We see cases from all over the country where activists who speak out against ICE are being arrested."
The attorney’s assertion might not be wrong as a NPR report released in March stated at least 20 immigrant activists were arrested on immigration charges.
Duran is currently being held at a facility in Louisiana while his attorney is working for his release. According to the journalist, the detention center is “uncomfortable” as he reportedly once found a cockroach in his food and at one point didn’t even have a blanket.
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