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California Parks Department Responds to Incident with Film Crew

June 13th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A month after being notified the California Department of Parks and Recreation has responded to a letter sent by NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher regarding an incident during which parks employees detained a news crew and ordered them to delete their footage. KGTV Team 10 reporter Mitch Blacher and photojournalist Arie Thanasoulis were on public property at San Onofre State Beach on April 29, 2013 shooting footage for a story on the San Onofre Nuclear power plant when they were approached by a parks employee who accused them of trespassing, blocked their vehicle and ordered them to stop recording.

That employee, later identified as Bob Warman, then called State Parks Police Officer Ennio Rocca  who arrived and also proceeded to harass and threaten to arrest the pair for doing nothing more than recording video of the plant from an area open to the public.  Officer Rocca in turn called an unidentified employee of Southern California Edison, who arrived on the scene dressed in full SWAT gear. The three of them then ordered the crew to delete whatever video they had already shot under threat of arrest.While the trio claimed the news crew was standing on private property, the “no trespassing” sign they referred to turned out to be for “no parking,” while a fisherman and a woman walking her dog are visible in video footage in an area they alleged was “secure.” Although the news crew complied with the unreasonable demand and deleted a file containing the footage they were able to broadcast a story using video contained on a second file.

In his letter Osterreicher called the actions of the parks officers “a clear violation of the First and Fourth Amendments.” “It is one thing for officers to act when there is probable cause, Osterreicher wrote, “it is quite another to abuse that discretion in order to create a climate that infringes upon free speech under the pretext of safety and security.” He requested that the “matter be fully investigated and the employees properly disciplined if so indicated.” Osterreicher also advised the department by email of another incident that occurred on May 14, 2103 involving its officers, who detained and questioned two other photographers, JC Playford and Gerry Nance, filming near the power plant gate.

Responding to the NPPA, California Department of Parks & Recreation Chief Counsel Claire LeFlore agreed that the officers had overstepped their bounds. “In hindsight, they may have acted with an overabundance of caution while detaining the news crew,” LeFlore said, “but there was never an intention to violate anyone’s constitutional rights.” LeFlore noted that the incident came shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, and at that “staff was on high alert for the possibility of additional terrorist actions.” Osterreicher responded to that statement in a subsequent interview, saying, “it is indeed unfortunate that well-meaning people still somehow equate an act of terrorism with photography.” “In the Boston tragedy it should be duly noted that law enforcement requested anyone who had pictures or video of the event provide them voluntarily – not delete them,” he added.

The importance of defending sensitive targets is well understood, but, as Osterreicher noted, “in any free country the balance between actual vigilance and over-zealous enforcement is delicate.” LeFlore says all personnel involved in the incident have been counseled on how to properly deal with the press “so that First Amendment rights can be protected and both the press and [parks] staff can carry out their functions with minimal interference with each other.” Officers have also been counseled that there is no legal basis for the seizure or destruction of photographs or video.

Osterreicher also sent copies of his letter to officials from Southern California Edison, the owners of the plant but received no response. In its report 10News quoted a spokeswoman for the utility, as saying, “a security officer ‘responded conservatively when he indicated to a television crew his preference that they stop filming and delete their video.'” Osterreicher also responded to that statement, “Indicating a preference that someone stop filming is a far cry from illegally ordering someone to do so under threat of arrest.” “Aside from being factually incorrect, the arrogance of Southern California Edison in their failure to respond to our letter, unrepentant statements to KGTV and behavior of their employees speaks for itself,” he concluded.

The NPPA has offered to work with the California Department of Parks and Recreation to improve their guidelines and training regarding these matters in order to avoid similar situations. The parks department says it will consider NPPA suggestions in implementing an expanded staff training program.

KGTV reporter Mitch Blacher said in an email, “It is encouraging to see the California state parks police work to remedy the oppression of constitutional rights by their officers,” adding, “As American citizens and working journalists our treatment was highly troubling.” “More questions need to be asked as to why California parks police and staff followed the direction of non-sworn private security personnel instead of the federal and state constitutions they swore an oath to uphold.”  1oNews Special Projects Executive Producer Ellen McGregor added, “As a manager behind-the-scenes, who talked for quite some time on the phone with parks police that day, Mickey’s offer train the agencies on the First and Fourth Amendments proves the NPPA’s commitment to a free press, and the journalists at KGTV are grateful.”

Posted in Access, Assault on Photographers, Attack Photographers, California, detained, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Recording, Regulations limiting photography, trespass | No Comments »

NPPA Joins Lawsuit Against NYPD

October 22nd, 2012 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today the National Press Photographer’s Association (NPPA) announced that it was joining 5 elected officials and almost a dozen members of the press in a lawsuit against the New York Police Department (NYPD) and JP Morgan Chase. The lawsuit alleges that the City of New York, the MTA, the NYPD, Brookfield Properties, and JP Morgan Chase conspired to violate the First Amendment rights of press members who were arrested while covering the “Occupy Wall Street” protests. The amended complaint seeks both redress against police misconduct during these arrests and that a federal independent monitor be appointed to observe future NYPD incidents involving the press.

NPPA joins this lawsuit on behalf of its 7000 members, including Plaintiff Stephanie Keith. Recently awarded the Newswoman of the Year Award by the Newswoman’s Club of New York, Ms. Keith was arrested twice while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests. “I joined this lawsuit because as a working journalist I’ve been arrested, thrown to the ground, hit with batons and yelled at by the NYPD while doing my job on assignment” said Ms. Keith. “I have seen my fellow journalists being treated this way as well. Why should journalists be subjected to trauma inducing harassment on the job?”

Sean D. Elliot, President of NPPA, stated that NPPA joined the lawsuit so that “it can effectively address the continuing course of conduct by the NYPD against its members and others that has chilled our Constitutionally protected rights to gather and disseminate news.”

Other plaintiffs in this lawsuit were quick to praise NPPA for joining as a new party. “We are pleased and honored to have the NPPA join our efforts, and we look forward to working with them towards the goals of justice, accountability and freedom of expression,” said Sam Cohen, one of the attorneys at the helm of the case. Yetta Kurland, a civil rights attorney assisting with the case, remarked that “The NPPA and other members of the press play a vital role in getting the message of OWS out to the world. Arresting the press isn’t just an attempt by the City and JP Morgan Chase to suppress the press and freedom of speech and expression, but also to suppress the message of Occupy.”

Posted in Assault on Photographers, Attack Photographers, Commissioner Raymond Kelly, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Lawsuit, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, NYPD, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street Arrests, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording Police | No Comments »

Charges Against 2 Student Journalists Dropped in Atlanta

October 15th, 2012 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Charges against two student journalists arrested while covering the Occupy Atlanta protests last year have finally been dropped. College journalists Alisen Redmond of The Sentinel at Kennesaw State University and Judith Kim of The Signal at Georgia State University were arrested by police on November 5, 2011 on charges of “obstruction of traffic,” even though both women were standing with a group of other media reporters on a street that police had already closed to traffic.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced the decision to drop the charges on October 13 during a conference held by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. When asked why he had failed to address the matter sooner, Reed responded that “he had not heard anything about it in the press or from his assistants.” Upon learning that the charges had been dropped, NPPA General Counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher said, “we applaud the city’s actions and hope this incident will serve as an example to others that it is never too late to make sure that justice is served.”

Osterreicher had sent Mayor Reed a letter on October 1 asking him to dismiss the charges against the students. Among other things, the letter, written on behalf of The American Society of News Editors, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The Atlanta Press Club, Cable News Network, Inc., The American Society of Media Photographers and The Student Press Law Center, urged Mayor Reed to “use your good offices to help seek an immediate dismissal of these charges in the interest of justice.”

An even earlier letter from The Student Press Law Center’s Executive Director Frank LoMonte was sent on November 7, 2011. In that letter LoMonte asked Mayor Reed to “immediately initiate an investigation into the circumstances of these student journalists’ arrests, and that you instruct the Police Department to withdraw all charges against the students and against any journalist whose ‘crime’ consists of standing on public property non-disruptively gathering news.”

NPPA has repeatedly pointed out to numerous groups and law enforcement agencies that actions by officers to interfere with and detain those engaged in Constitutionally protected activity under color of law is wrong. The NPPA has also strongly objected to journalists being harassed, intimidated and arrested while covering news stories because they were not considered to be “properly credentialed” by the police.

Posted in Assault on Photographers, Attack Photographers, detained, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street Arrests, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording Police, Student, students | No Comments »

NPPA Along With 13 Media Groups Sends Letter to NYPD Regarding Police-Press Relations

October 1st, 2012 by and tagged , , , ,

The National Press Photographer’s Association (NPPA) along with 13 other media organizations sent a letter to the New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly today requesting another meeting to discuss recent police incidents involving journalists in New York City. Joining in the letter were: The New York Times, The New York Daily News, the Associated Press, Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones, the New York Press Club, the New York Newspaper Publishers Association, the New York Press Photographers Association, the American Society of Media Photographers, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The first incident desribed in the letter involved the arrest of New York Times photographer Robert Stolarik on August 4, 2012, in the Bronx. Stolarik was interfered with and arrested for taking pictures of an arrest which was being conducted as part of New York City’s controversial “stop and frisk” program. Throught the efforts of NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher and New York Times deputy general counsel George Freeman, Stolarik was able to recover his equipment a week later and his credentials on August 23, 2012. Although Stolarik filed a complaint with the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau immediately after his release the report of that investigation has not been released.

“We are also deeply concerned because his arrest appears to be in direct contravention of a 6/2/77 Stipulation and Order in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in the matter of Black v. Codd, which was incorporated verbatim into the NYPD Patrol Guide in 2000 at PG 208-03 under the heading “Observers at the Scene of Police Incidents,” Osterreicher wrote in his letter to the NYPD.

Also of concern to the group was the treatment of journalists on September 17, 2012, when members of the NYPD “interfered with, assaulted, detained and in some cases arrested members of the media who were on a public street covering the anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests.” Media members reported that officers told them that they were not allowed to use their cameras in a public area before using batons to force them from the area. Another group of journalists present were threatened with arrest if they failed to leave the area, even though the same police officers were permitting members of the public to pass through the same area.

“It is our strongly asserted position that while the press may not have a greater right of access than the public, they have no less right either,”  Osterreicher wrote. “We strongly object to any journalists being harassed, intimidated and arrested when clearly displaying press identification solely because they were not considered to be ‘properly credentialed’ by the police,” he added.

The letter concluded by stating, “given these ongoing issues and incidents we believe that more is needed in order to improve police-press relations and to clarify the ability of credentialed and non-credentialed journalists to photograph and record on public streets without fear of intimidation and arrest. Therefore, we urge you meet with us once again so that we may help devise a better system of education and training for department members starting from the top down.”

Posted in Access, Assault on Photographers, Attack Photographers, Commissioner Raymond Kelly, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, New York TImes, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, NY Daily News, NYPD, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street Arrests, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Press Credentials, Recording, Recording Police, Robert Stolarik | No Comments »

NYPD Return Seized Camera Equipment of N.Y. Times Photographer

August 13th, 2012 by Advocacy Intern and tagged , , , , , ,

The New York Police Department (NYPD) on Friday returned the camera equipment of a New York Times photographer who had his equipment seized following his arrest on August 4th.

Robert Stolarik, who was arrested on charges of obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest while photographing police activity on assignment, said, “My cameras were returned to me on Friday at 3:30. Getting my gear back is the first step in returning to some normalcy. The next things for me will be getting the charges dropped and having my credentials returned to me.”

The return of the seized equipment came days after the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) sent a letter to Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne of the NYPD that objected to the rough treatment and arrest of Stolarik and requested that his equipment be returned to him.

“Mr. Stolarik’s equipment and credentials must be returned immediately,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for NPPA, in his letter to the NYPD.  “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 also sent a letter to the editor  which was published by the NY Times on that same Friday morning, in which among other things, the NPPA attorney urged “the New York Police Department to work with us to improve training and supervision for its members starting from the top down .”

Upon learning of the equipment’s return Osterreicher said, “While I am pleased that Robert has his cameras back, this incident, like so many others around the country should never have happened in the first place.” “Had officers just let him do his job this would be a non-story,” he added.

Today Stolarik met with officers from the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau, who were following up on his complaint. That is also the reason that word of the equipment return was not announced until now. George Freeman, a lawyer for The Times, said “we hope the IAB will objectively investigate this case, because we are fully confident that if they look at the facts, they will find that the officers who blocked, intimidated and assaulted Mr. Stolarik acted inappropriately and violated NYPD guidelines.” He also added, “we hope that those officers ultimately will be disciplined not only to punish them for their wrongdoing, but also to send a well-needed message to the rest of the force that interfering and beating on the press while they are doing their jobs simply won’t be tolerated.”

Posted in Access, Assault on Photographers, Attack Photographers, Cameras, DCPI Paul Browne, First Amendment, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, New York TImes, News Photography, Newsgathering, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Robert Stolarik | No Comments »

Lawsuit Targets San Diego Law Enforcement Agencies for First Amendment Rights Violations

August 10th, 2012 by Advocacy Intern and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The American News and Information Services (ANIS) filed a Complaint Wednesday in federal district court seeking redress for the repeated violation of the First Amendment rights of an ANIS employee by San Diego City and County government officials.

The complaint alleges that San Diego law enforcement exhibited a pattern of First Amendment rights violations by giving law enforcement officers excessive discretion to prevent access to and recording of public safety activity.  It also alleges that the pattern is further evidenced by the San Diego Police Department’s (SDPD) exclusive authority to issue media credentials and the retaliatory actions taken against those who attempt to exercise their right to record.

“The SD Defendants, despite a revolution in access to news brought on by rapid technological advances, still seek through the use of government-issued press credentials control of the message through control of the messenger,” the complaint states.

James C. Playford, a National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) member who began work for ANIS after the SDPD refused to renew his press credentials, has been arrested four times since 2010 while attempting to cover public safety activities.  Three of those arrests resulted in the seizure of Playford’s equipment and raw video.  A photo and physical description of Playford was also allegedly disseminated to San Diego law enforcement identifying him as an individual prohibited from access to public safety activity.

San Diego law enforcement agencies have come under fire recently due to repeated arrests of photojournalists.  The NPPA sent a letter  to the SDPD and along with one from the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial County (ACLU) which they referenced on their website, requesting an end to police interference with photojournalists’ rights to record events occurring in public.  Wednesday’s letter was NPPA’s third letter to San Diego law enforcement this year concerning the rights of photojournalists.

“While the press may not have any greater access rights than the public to these incidents, they have no less rights either,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for NPPA, in his letter to the SDPD.  “Unfortunately a number of your officers have abused their discretion in limiting those press rights and then have detained and arrested our members when questioned about such discriminatory acts.”

In the most recent media controversy, NPPA member and freelance photojournalist Edward Baier was arrested on July 20th by the SDPD and charged with interfering with a police officer, though Baier claimed he was attempting to film from private property with the owner’s permission.  Baier said he was tackled by two officers during the altercation, causing him injuries requiring medical attention.

Baier’s arrest was his second this year by the SDPD.  In January, police told Baier to move away from the scene of a drowning, though the public was allowed to remain inside of the police tape.  When Baier protested, he was arrested and charged with resisting arrest.  The arresting officers later added two counts of assaulting an officer.

The NPPA sent a letter to the SDPD in January objecting to Baier’s arrest, and later sent a letter to the Office of the City Attorney requesting that Baier’s charges be dropped.

“The reliance by your officer to question, detain, interfere with, arrest and seize the property of someone engaged in a lawful activity under color of law is reprehensible,” Osterreicher said in his January letter to the SDPD.  “At best, behavior that chills free speech and unreasonably seizes property is extremely unprofessional, at worst it is criminal.”

Posted in Access, ACLU, ACLU of Dan Diego & Imperial County, Assault on Photographers, Attack Photographers, confiscated, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Lawsuit, National Press Photographers Association, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Recording Police, San Diego Police Department, SDPD | No Comments »

NPPA General Counsel Speaks on Photojournalism Issues at National Press Club

June 28th, 2012 by Advocacy Intern and tagged , , , , ,

Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), spoke at the National Press Club (NPC) in Washington, D.C. on June 27, 2012 where he warned NPC members of ongoing issues concerning copyright infringement and the assault on the right to photograph in public places.

“It’s vital for citizens and journalists to know their rights when taking pictures or recording in public places. It’s even more crucial that police departments have appropriate policies and continuously train their officers regarding those rights,” Osterreicher said following the speech.

Osterreicher, who spoke to the NPC last January on a similar topic paid particular attention to the increasing prevalence of police interfering with the rights of the public and the media to photograph in public places.  He noted that there have been a growing number of arrests of citizens and photographers who take pictures, particularly those who have documented activist gatherings such as the Occupy protests.

Osterreicher attributed the increase in these incidents to the widespread proliferation of cameras and smartphones, which make it possible for anyone to photograph and record matters of public concern and then provide that material to the rest of the world via the Internet.  He said that police nationwide have shown a reluctance to allow such documentation, and have often responded with hostility and threats of arrest.

“I think it’s the culture of the police,” Osterreicher said.  “Their idea of serve and protect often means protecting people  and other officers from having their pictures taken.”

The NPPA has come to the defense of many of these photographers, both professional and amateur, because of its belief that government officials should never be left to determine what is or is not a newsworthy picture or story. The organization urges offending police departments to drop charges and to adopt policies that do not interfere with the public’s right to photograph.

Osterreicher talked about training sessions he has held with several police departments on how to interact with the press,  his work with the Chicago Police and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press during the NATO Summit and his preparations for the upcoming national political conventions.

He said he offers this service whenever he writes to police departments that have had incidents with photographers. “People ask me ‘Why do you write so many letters?'” Osterreicher said. “Well, the answer is that it’s cheaper than bringing a lawsuit.  It’s cheaper for everyone, but as the police so often say ‘we can do this the easy way or the hard way,’ I think that a letter is the easy way but in some recently filed lawsuits NPPA has provided support against those departments and officers who blatantly violated our members’ constitutional rights.”

Osterreicher also spoke about instances in which police have taken cameras and phones and deleted photos or compelled the person who took the photos to do so.  He reminded members of the NPC that under no circumstances do officers have the right to delete or destroy photographs or video.

Osterreicher said that he is hopeful that incidents like these decline once police are educated and trained regarding the rights of the press and public to photograph and record.

“The police aren’t going anywhere.  The media isn’t going anywhere.  We need to find a way to do our jobs without interference.”

 

Posted in Access, Assault on Photographers, Attack Photographers, Cameras, cell phone cameras, Chicago Police, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, law, Lawsuit, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street Arrests, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Recording, Recording Police, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, video cameras | No Comments »

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