Omar Vega, a San Francisco State University student and Oakland Tribune photo intern, is in the thick of a First Amendment debate over his arrest on burglary charges this week.
Vega and his lawyers say he was simply documenting the life of a freshman at San Francisco State when he took pictures of students breaking into a fellow student's car. The San Francisco District Attorney's Office, after an investigation by campus police, agreed to pursue charges against Vega. The office did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday.
The 18-year-old Stockton native says he had no idea a crime would be committed Oct. 24, when someone in the dorm found a set of car keys and set out to find the car.
But even if he did, taking photographs does not constitute a crime, said Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, a nonprofit that supports free and open government.
Missing from the car were about 20 CDs and $15 in cash, the owner told police. It cost about $1,000 to change the locks and get new remote-controlled keys made.
Vega posted his photos on a Web site, triggering an ethical debate and a criminal investigation by campus police who received phone calls and e-mails.
Five of six people there that night are being charged. Vega, who was cuffed outside his journalism class Wednesday, was the first to be charged, said his lawyer, Emilia Mayorga of San Francisco.
Flanked by Mayorga and his journalism professors, Vega held a news conference Friday to decry his treatment.
"We believe our student Omar Vega was not committing a crime, he was committing journalism," Journalism Department Chairman John Burks said. His backers say Vega's arrest is part of a systematic attempt to block him from taking pictures on campus after he captured freshmen having oral sex and binge drinking.
University spokeswoman Ellen Griffin declined to comment on any disciplinary action against a specific student.