The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) sent a letter to the New York Police Department (NYPD) today requesting an investigation into the arrest of a New York Times photographer while he was on assignment in the Bronx.
“It is clear from the reports of the most recent incident involving Mr. Stolarik that proper training and supervision of NYPD officers regarding the rights of the press and public to record and photograph on city streets is sorely inadequate,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the NPPA, in his letter to the NYPD.
Robert Stolarik, who has worked for the Times for over a decade, said he was shooting images of a teenage girl getting arrested on Saturday night when an officer approached and ordered him to stop photographing. The 43-year-old Stolarik said that after he showed his press credentials and continued shooting, another officer grabbed his camera and slammed it into his face.
Stolarik said he was then dragged to the ground and kicked in the back, sustaining scrapes and bruises to his arms, hands and face. Stolarik’s cameras were seized and he was charged with obstructing government administration and resisting arrest.
Osterreicher said that this was one of many recent incidents in which the NYPD had interfered with and arrested photojournalists while covering police activities. Osterreicher met with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly in November following an incident in which journalists were arrested covering the Occupy protest in Zuccotti Park. The commissioner issued a directive to the NYPD concerning the rights of the media to act in their news-gathering capacity during police incidents, but the next day journalists were again interfered with while covering a Thanksgiving Day fire in Brooklyn and during the Macy’s Day Parade in Manhattan.
“It is a travesty that officers still do not understand or respect that ‘the public’s access to information regarding the official business of the Department is of critical importance to effective City government,’” said Osterreicher in his letter to the NYPD, quoting from Commissioner Kelly’s directive.
Saturday’s incident with the police was also not the first for Stolarik. In a December 2011 incident caught on video, Stolarik argued with officers blocking his access as he attempted to photograph an arrest inside the World Financial Center. The NYPD took disciplinary action on one of the officers involved in the incident after receiving a letter of complaint from news media representatives.
In addition to an investigation, the NPPA also requested that Stolarik’s equipment and credentials be returned to him immediately.
“We believe that the seizure and alleged destruction of his equipment not only violates his First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights but may be considered a form of prior restraint and a violation of the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, specifically enacted to protect against the search and seizure of a journalist’s work product,” Osterreicher said.