Memphis-based journalist Manuel Duran says he was “without a doubt” targeted by the city’s police department for his work, according to an interview conducted by The Daily Beast.
“I was doing my work and nothing more, like any other journalist does,” he told the news outlet.
In April, Duran was one of several reporters covering a Memphis protest when he was arrested for refusing orders to clear the street, according to a police affidavit.
Although local prosecutors dropped the charges two days after his arrest, federal immigration agents were outside the Shelby County jail waiting to arrest and transport him to a detention center in Jena, Louisiana, where he remains.
A police official denied singling out Duran because he is a journalist, saying at a press conference, “The question that we targeted Mr. Duran is just false.”
ICE has also denied the claim.
“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,” ICE spokesman Bryan D. Cox told The Daily Beast.
Duran’s claim that he was arrested for doing his job isn’t far-fetched, however, considering his past reporting that has been critical of the police department.
A year before his arrest, Memphis Noticias, the news website Duran founded, published a video interview with a woman whose friend was arrested by Memphis Police and subsequently transferred to ICE custody, despite promises from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland that the city’s government was not cooperating with ICE. Duran told The Daily Beast that he is aware of three confirmed cases of the city’s police department collaborating with ICE. Memphis police asked Duran to take the video down but he refused.
A court petition filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) alleges that Duran also reported on a number of stories involving the city’s police department, including shootings, individual police misconduct, and a man whose body was found in a vehicle at the police impound lot.
Duran’s attorney says his client’s journalism holds local officials accountable and provides government transparency for those in his community. “He’s the only one that’s doing it for the Spanish-speaking community in Memphis. His absence is a huge loss,” he said.
ICE has attempted to deport Duran back to El Salvador. He fled the Central American country in 2006 after receiving repeated death threats for his reporting on its law enforcement and judicial system. In 2007, Duran received an order of removal after missing an immigration hearing. According to Duran, he never received a notice of that hearing.
NPR reported in March that at least 20 activists have been arrested by ICE on immigration charges.