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NPPA Attorney Obtains Another Dismissal in Cases Against Photojournalists Covering Occupy Protests

February 21st, 2012 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , ,

Charges were dismissed last week against a New York City photojournalist arrested while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests.

NPPA’s general counsel, Mickey H. Osterreicher, was successful in obtaining court dismissal of charges stemming from the arrest last November of NPPA member Douglas Higginbotham while he was covering the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Charges were dropped “in the interest of justice,” in response to Osterreicher’s motion to dismiss, made on his behalf. Higginbotham was arrested after he stood on top of a phone booth to get a better vantage point of the protest. As he was attempting to get down (after being ordered to do so by police) officers pulled him off his perch and arrested him for disorderly conduct.

NPPA president Sean Elliot said, “I am pleased to see the correct outcome in this case but unfortunately the fact that Mr. Higginbotham was arrested in the first place represents just another example of a disturbing trend in police-press relations.” “I would hope that the NPPA, SPJ and other organizations representing journalists can continue to make headway in educating police officials on how to better work with the media and avoid such incidents as this in the future,” he added.

Ironically, last year while covering a celebration of the death of Osama bin Laden, Higginbotham was helped up onto another nearby phone booth by police and firefighters. “Being a freelancer working in New York for a TV station in New Zealand, I was very concerned and upset after my arrest,” Higginbotham said in an interview. “Knowing that I had NPPA representing me was very reassuring. I am just glad that this episode is over and that the charges were dismissed,” he added.

The Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) provided financial assistance for his defense. “I’m not surprised by the outcome,” said SPJ President John Ensslin. “I felt Doug had a strong case and I know he had a good lawyer.” “We at SPJ are relieved and happy that this case is over and that Doug can go back to doing what he does without the threat of prosecution hanging over his head.”

Watch video of TV New Zealand story and his arrest

Charges were also dropped in January, against Jennifer Weiss, a freelance video and print journalist who had been working for Agence France-Presse covering the clearing of Zuccotti Park on November 15 of last year. She was attempting to get to the scene, when a police officer singled her out for arrest. She identified herself as a journalist, but was not allowed to call her editor until after she was released and was one of several journalists arrested that day. She had been charged with blocking pedestrian traffic and disorderly conduct and was issued an appearance ticket, which Osterreicher succeeded in having dismissed.  Ms. Weiss said, “Mickey was extremely helpful, accessible and answered all my questions — and ultimately got my charges dismissed ahead of my court date. I’m very grateful to him for the time and effort he put in on my case.”

Also in January, Osterreicher represented Jonathan Foster, an NPPA student member who was charged with trespassing after being arrested covering Occupy Rochester. Prosecutors initially refused to drop the charges, but they were dismissed at a hearing on January 12.

NPPA’s attorney also provided support to counsel for Kristyna Wentz-Graff and the Milwaukee Sentinel, and he exchanged letters with the police department and prosecutors in that case. In the original police report, Wentz-Graff was charged with standing on a roadway and obstructing the issuance of a citation. The video of the incident shows that she was about to step onto the sidewalk from the street when the police yanked her back into the street and arrested her. Police claimed that they didn’t know she was a journalist but the video showed her credential hanging around her neck and clearly visible. Prosecutors decided not to issue a citation, which is the equivalent of dismissing the original charges in Wisconsin, on December 19.

Posted in Disorderly Conduct, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, Interest of Justice, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, NYPD, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street Arrests, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording Police, video cameras | No Comments »

NPPA Protests New Tactic in Dealing with Photographers Covering the Occupy Protests

February 21st, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , ,

Today, the NPPA sent another letter of protest to U.S. Parks Police Chief Teresa Chambers asking her to investigate allegations that a photographer was arrested and detained for 48 hours without being formally charged. According to press reports officers arrested Jerry Nelson, a freelance photojournalist as he covered the removal of OccupyDC protestors from McPherson Square in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 2012.

It is also alleged that although officers originally decided to charge Mr. Nelson with assault, he was never formally charged, read his rights, arraigned or allowed to make a telephone call, although he was kept “shackled and handcuffed” with “no food, no water” until his released by U.S. Marshall’s 48 hours later.

In a previous letter to the Chief, the NPPA objected to the arrest of journalists photographing and recording a Taxicab Commission hearing this past summer. After that incident, the Chief responded that their Solicitor’s Office had determined that the officers in question had acted legally.

The arrest and detention of Mr. Nelson appears to be another escalation in the ongoing tension between police and photographers covering events involving the Occupy movement.

Posted in Access, Cameras, D.C., District of Columbia, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment rights, McPherson Park, McPherson Square, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, OccupyDC, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, U.S. Parks Police | No Comments »

Ninth Circuit: Photojournalist’s Access is a “Fundamental Constitutional Right”

February 16th, 2012 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In another victory for photographers, the NPPA is applauding a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which held that restrictions on a photojournalists’ access to a horse roundup by a federal agency may have violated her First Amendment rights. The appellate court stopped short of ruling that her rights were violated, but remanded the case to a lower court to reconsider the question based on a specific analysis.

In the fall of 2010, photojournalist Laura Leigh set out to cover a wild horse round-up, conducted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the purposes of population control.  According to the ruling, while Leigh was covering the round-up, severe restrictions were imposed on her — she was escorted by armed guards and directed to stand in an area in which her view was obstructed. From the location she was forced to stand in, she was unable to observe or photograph the horses being moved or sorted and was unable to view whether or not the horses were injured. Leigh was also prohibited from standing in certain areas even though other members of the public were permitted in those areas.

Leigh attempted to get an injunction and restraining order to provide her with unrestricted access but that request was denied by a federal court. The appellate court reversed the denial, holding that “courts have a duty to conduct a thorough and searching review of any attempt to restrict public access.”

The ruling in Leigh vs. Salazar ordered the lower court to engage in a proper inquiry. Appellate courts generally do not make factual findings and the question of whether Leigh’s rights were violated is very fact specific and required more detailed information than was available to the appellate court.

The court called the photographer’s access to take pictures a “fundamental constitutional right, which serves to ensure that the individual citizen can effectively participate in and contribute to our republican system of self government.” When there is a right of access, the government may only overcome that right by “demonstrating an overriding interest based on findings that closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.” The National Press Photographers Association and the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press had filed an amicus brief in support of the photographer after the case was brought to our attention.

Quoting founding father James Madison, the court noted that:

“a popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.”
9 WRITINGS OF JAMES MADISON 103 (G. Hunt ed. 1910)

Read the entire Ninth Circuit decision here: Decision021412 (PDF)

Posted in Access, Cameras, Federal Court, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Regulations limiting photography, Street Photography | No Comments »

NPPA Sends Letter Citing Violation of Baltimore PD Policy Concerning Recording of Police Activity

February 14th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher

The NPPA sent a letter to Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, citing an incident where a citizen recording actions by police officers on a city street was threatened with arrest if he did not leave the area. This occurred less than 24 hours after BPD released Baltimore Police Guidelines 02-13-12 (dated Nov. 8, 2011), ensuring “the protection and preservation of every person’s Constitutional rights.” The letter also requests that “this incident be fully investigated and disciplinary action taken against the officers involved should that be indicated.”

According to press reports Mr. Cover was told by officers that “he was loitering, and that he had to move along or risk arrest.” This action appears to be in direct contravention of both the letter and spirit of a policy that was just implemented in order to preempt a lawsuit against the Baltimore Police for flagrant violations of citizens’ constitutional rights to observe and record police activity in public. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi is reported to have said, “The department waited until the process of informing and training officers was complete before releasing the November order,” but according to some it seems that time may have been spent training officers how to circumvent the policy rather than follow it.

That General Order “requiring” certain “action” during “routine encounters with the general public” states that “upon discovery that a bystander is observing, photographing, or video recording the conduct of police activity: DO NOT impede or prevent the bystander’s ability to continue doing so based solely on your discovery of his/her presence.” “BEFORE taking any police action which would stop a bystander from observing, photographing, or video recording the conduct of police activity, Officer(s) must have observed the bystander committing some act that falls within one of the six numbered conditions listed in . . . this Order . . . ” (emphasis in the originals). And despite the fact that Mr. Cover did nothing more than record on a city street your supervisory officer orders him to move under threat of arrest.

The letter once again pointed out that photography by itself is not a suspicious activity and “contrary to the training that was ostensibly provided over the three (3) months since the Order was implemented, it appears that the message is not being received or followed.”

Posted in Access, Baltimore Police, Cameras, cell phone cameras, Christopher Sharp, Department of Justice, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Maryland ACLU, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Recording Police, Scott Cover | No Comments »

NPPA FIles Comments in Support of H.B. 3944 Amending the Criminal Provisions of the Illinois Wiretap Law

February 6th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) has submitted comments to the Illinois General Assembly in support of House Bill 3944. Spoinsored by Rep. Elaine Nekritz, the proposed legislation (among other things) “amends the Illinois Criminal Code and exempts from an eavesdropping violation the recording of a peace officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted human ear.” 

The current Illinois Wiretap Law makes it a felony (with a penalty of up to 15 years in jail) to audio record a police officer in public without consent regardless of whether a reasonable expectation of privacy exisited.

The NPPA is extremely concerned that the criminal penalties under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, 720 ILCS 5/14 (“the Act”), as applied to the audio recording of police officers, has created a chilling effect upon free speech and a free press, particularly for photojournalists, who by the very nature of their profession must operate on the front lines of news, in the middle of sometimes highly charged situations.

NPPA joined in the amicus curiae brief in ACLU v. Alvarez, submitted by news organizations in support of the ACLU position seeking a declaratory judgment and a preliminary injunction against the application of the Act because it violates the First Amendment. Regardless of the Seventh Circuit decision in that case, which in any event may likely be appealed, NPPA is deeply concerned that daily coverage of news events, Occupy Chicago protests and the upcoming G-8 Summit may put those seeking to record these important matters of public concern at risk because of the continued enforcement of the Act. It especially disconcerting for us to think that foreign journalists covering the Summit meeting may be subject to arrest and prosecution for doing something they understandably believe to be a Constitutionally protected right throughout the United States.

In a time of technology and terrorism, citizens and photojournalists throughout the world have risked, and in some cases given their lives, to provide visual proof of governmental activities. Sadly, what is viewed as heroic abroad is often considered as suspect or criminal at home. It is therefore incumbent upon the 97th General Assembly of the State of Illinois to immediately enact H.B. 3944.

Posted in Access, broadcasting, Cameras, cell phone cameras, Chicago, Chicago Police, confiscated, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, G-8 Summit, H.B. 3944, Illinois, Illinois General Assemby, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, Recording Police, Regulations limiting photography, Search and Seizure, Suspicious Activity, Terrorism, video cameras, Wiretap Law | No Comments »