National legal organization to represent Memphis journalist in federal custody

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A national legal defense organization is taking up the case of a Memphis journalist who is in the custody of the federal government.

MPD arrested Manuel Duran during an MLK 50 protest on April 3.

Duran's girlfriend Melissa Valdez said she'd been driving seven hours each way multiple times a week since then to visit Duran at LaSalle Detention Center in Louisiana.

"It's not easy," Valdez said. "I'm tired. I haven't slept since April 3, and I barely eat anymore."

Duran’s attorney said he was covering a rally on Poplar Avenue when things went awry.

Police said protesters were taking too long to cross the street and blocking traffic, so they arrested several people including Duran.

"His arrest while reporting on the April 3 protest was without a warrant or probable cause and blatantly violated his fourth amendment rights," said Duran's attorney Michelle Lapointe with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

That could be why Memphis Police soon dropped the charges against him.

But soon after, ICE agents took Duran into custody from the Shelby County jail.

In a statement, federal officials said, “Mr. Duran-Ortega was ordered removed from the United States by a federal immigration judge in January 2007 after failing to appear for his scheduled court date. He has been an immigration fugitive since that time.”

His lawyers said he didn’t know about the missed appearance and they want him released so he can address it.

They said his life would be at risk due to his journalism work if he returned to El Salvador.

“We urge the Department of Homeland Security to give him his day and court, to give him a fair process so he can fight his case and remain in the U.S.,” Lapointe said.

His lawyers said they filed his petition in federal court in Louisiana. They're hoping to get some kind of advancement in his case in the coming weeks but did not have an exact date.

Duran's attorneys also said the federal government is targeting him because of stories he's reported that are critical of the government. ICE officials called that "categorically false."