NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher says Detroit Police may have violated a local news photographer’s rights when they arrested her after she attempted to film officers on a public street.
In a letter to Detroit Police Chief James Craig today, Osterreicher also expressed concern over the unlawful seizure of Mandi Wright’s iPhone. “Alleged behavior that chills free speech and violates protections against unreasonable search and seizure under color of law is of great concern to us,” Osterreicher said, adding that the apparent disappearance of Wright’s SIM card was equally troubling.
Video of the incident shows Wright filming a suspect being taken into custody. A man in plainclothes notices the journalist and rapidly approaches her while demanding she “back off.”
Wright immediately identifies herself as a member of the press, to which the man responds “Ok. I don’t care who you are.”
The man, purported to be a plainclothes DPD officer who never identifies himself in the video, confiscated Wrights phone after a brief struggle. Wright was then arrested. She says at the time, she had no idea the unidentified man was law enforcement.
In his letter to Chief Craig, Osterreicher noted that an increasing number of photographers are being unlawfully interfered with, detained, or arrested by police. “In any free country the balance between actual vigilance and over-zealous enforcement is delicate,” he said. “It may be understandable that law enforcement officers have a heightened sense of awareness after pursuing an armed suspect – but that is no excuse for blatantly violating a person’s First Amendment rights.”
DPD says an internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest is ongoing. Wright has not been charged with a crime.
The NPPA has offered to help the Detroit Police Department develop reasonable and workable policies, practices and training in order to avoid similar situations.
For more on the importance of the right to photograph in public, read this article written by Osterreicher and recently published in the National Sheriff Association Magazine. He also presented a training session at their national convention in Charlotte, NC about the importance of the right to photograph and record in public.
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