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Texas Court Upholds the Right to Photograph and Record Police Activity

July 26th, 2014 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

In an important ruling in Texas, a federal judge held that the right to record police activity is a clearly established right protected by the First Amendment.

In a civil rights lawsuit, Antonio Buehler alleged that his constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested by the Austin Police Department multiple times for taking pictures of police activities. Buehler was first arrested when he came upon a police scene at a gas station, where he began recording the arrest because he felt that excessive force was being used. After that arrest, he formed a group called the “Peaceful Streets Project” and began regularly documenting police activity. He was arrested again and again for documenting police activity, according to the lawsuit.

In an effort to get the lawsuit dismissed, the Austin Police Department claimed “qualified immunity” which protects state officials from suit. However, qualified immunity is not available if officials violate a clearly established constitutional right. In their argument, APD claimed that the right to photograph or videotape police officers “is not recognized as a constitutional right”.

In an order released Thursday, the federal judge in the case held that not only is there a constitutional right to document police officers, but that the right is clearly established. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane held that “the First Amendment protects the right to videotape police officers in the performance of their official duties, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.”

Continuing, the judge wrote:

If a person has the right to assemble in a public place, receive information on a matter of public concern, and make a record of that information for the purpose of disseminating that information, the ability to make photographic or video recording of that information is simply not a new or a revolutionary expansion of a historical right. Instead the photographic or video recording of public information is only a more modern and efficient method of exercising a clearly established right.

Buehler’s attorney, Daphne Silverman told NPPA, “Antonio and I are pleased with Judge Lane’s ruling upholding the First Amendment right to document police conduct. This is a win for the citizens and should be of no concern to honest police officers.”

The NPPA filed an amicus brief in the case last month in support of Buehler’s position, whose case will now go forward.

See also, http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/crime-law/federal-judge-upholds-activist-antonio-buehlers-ri/ngnbp/

Posted in Austin Police, blogging, False Arrest, Federal Court, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Lawsuit, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, NPPA, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording Police | No Comments »

A Tale of Two Cases: How Photographers Are Being Squeezed From All Sides

November 20th, 2013 by Mickey Osterreicher

Today was a picture perfect example of how photographers are being squeezed from all sides. On the front end photographers are being interfered with and arrested on an almost daily basis nationwide for doing nothing more than trying to do their jobs by photographing and recording matters of public concern on city streets.

In one such case a NYC Criminal Court jury acquitted photographer Jason Nicholas today on a misdemeanor count of Obstructing Governmental Administration. Mr. Nicholas was arrested in 2011 for allegedly interfering with NYNJ Port Authority Police while covering a news story. A previous trial resulted in a hung jury but the district attorney chose to re-try him. Afterwards Mr. Nicholas said, “this is a victory for us and a swift and resounding defeat for the police and prosecution!” “Now maybe we can get this to stop on behalf of all journalists,” he added.

On the back end where photographers works are being used globally without their permission, Daniel Morel was sitting in a federal courtroom a few blocks away from Mr. Nicholas. He is pitted against Agence France Press (AFP) (and Getty Images) in a copyright infringement case. Read about this case along with updates here.

Liability for infringement has already been established. The only remaining defendants in the counterclaim case are AFP and Getty Images, as the other defendants have already settled with Mr. Morel.  All that is left for the jury to decide is how much each of them (AFP & Getty) must pay in damages. Click here for a running blog of the six (6) days of testimony.

Attorneys for both sides are expected to make their closing arguments tomorrow morning in the Southern District of New York Courthouse located at 40 Foley Square in New York City. Judge Nathan’s courtroom is on the 5th floor for those of you able to attend.

So on one day within a few blocks of each other I was able to view some of the major challenges facing photographers around the world and also witness how two of them chose to stand up for their rights and by so doing take a stand against those who would violate our constitutional and copyrights.

 

Posted in Access, AFP v Morel, Agence France-Presse, Assault on Photographers, contracts, copyright, copyright infringement, Daniel Morel, False Arrest, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment rights, Getty, Lawsuit, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording Police, retaliation for the exercise of First Amendment rights, social networking, Twitpic, Twitter | No Comments »

NYPD Officer Indicted After Investigation of NPPA Member’s Unlawful Arrest

August 28th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , ,

An NYPD officer accused of roughing up and illegally arresting a New York Times photographer has been indicted on multiple charges stemming from an incident last August. Robert Stolarik, an NPPA member, was violently accosted and taken into custody while photographing Officer Michael Ackermann who was trying to arrest a teenage girl in the Bronx.

Officer Ackermann claimed Stolarik hindered police work by repeatedly aiming the flash of his camera at the officer’s face. That story crumbled under investigation by the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB). The Bronx district attorney also learned that Stolarik did not have a flash on his camera at the time of the incident, and concluded the officer’s story was a lie. Ackermann now faces three felonies and five misdemeanors, and could see up to seven years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.

Working with New York Times’ Vice President and Assistant General Counsel George Freeman after the arrest, NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher sent a letter to NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne objecting to Stolarik’s unwarranted arrest and rough treatment. Freeman and Osterreicher also requested that the photographer’s equipment and press credentials, both seized at the time of the incident, be immediately returned. In addition the NPPA publicly criticized the NYPD for their actions.

Stolarik’s ordeal was especially troubling because he was arrested in direct violation of NYPD’s own Patrol Guide directives as noted in a follow-up letter from Osterreicher to Browne. Osterreicher also sent a letter to the editor, which was published in the NY Times. In it Osterreicher urged “the New York Police Department to work with us to improve training and supervision for its members.”

Robert Stolarik displays his NYPD press credentials in Tampa. FL, received 2 days before the RNC (photo by Mickey Osterreicher)

The NYPD returned Stolarik’s equipment in the days following the NPPA’s first letter. Osterreicher’s continued negotiations with the department resulted in the release of the photographer’s press credentials two weeks later. Ongoing efforts by George Freeman resulted in prosecutor’s ultimately dropped all charges against Stolarik.

The internal investigation that resulted in Officer Ackermann’s indictment is an encouraging sign in what was otherwise a troubling year for the NYPD’s relationship with photographers. Soon after Stolarik’s arrest, police conducted a campaign of intimidation and interference against photographers covering the anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protest. Stolarik himself had been forcibly prevented from covering the actual rally the previous year. Several journalists were detained or arrested at the Occupy anniversary. The NPPA also responded to these incidents.

Incidents such as this are becoming all too common throughout the country. Many officers apparently do not know or disregard photographers’ First Amendment rights. Despite assertions two years ago that the NYPD was providing improved training to its officers the situation in New York City has not improved. “We have been unsuccessful in arranging a meeting with the new NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters (DCLM) or the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information (DCPI) to discuss these issues,” said Osterreicher. “Commissioner Kelly and his staff met with members of the media after the arrests of 26 journalists in Zuccotti Park in November of 2011, after which he issued a Finest message directing members of the NYPD to cooperate with the press. At the time I said that it was a good start but since then it appears to be just another piece of paper as far too many officers and supervisory staff ignore its directives,” Osterreicher added.

On behalf of the NPPA, Osterreicher has continued to advise and train police agencies around the country in an effort to improve police-press relations. The First Amendment is not absolute but subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions. While police may have the discretion to limit access when public safety or other legitimate law enforcement activities so dictate, they may not order someone to stop taking photographs or recording video in a public place, especially if other members of the public are allowed to remain and observe those activities.

As Osterreicher says in his police training: “We can do this the easy way or the hard way!” It is indeed unfortunate that rather than respecting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that they are sworn to uphold some officers believe that they are a law unto themselves. For Officer Ackermann it may have been a very costly mistake to view a photographer with a camera with suspicion and contempt. Everyone has a job to do: for a police officer it is to provide public safety and enforce the law; for a visual journalist it is to gather and disseminate news. It would best serve both purposes if this case helps to encourage cooperation between the two professions rather that continued conflict. As often is the case it’s the enlightening truths that prove most elusive.

Posted in Access, DCPI Paul Browne, False Arrest, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, New York TImes, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, NYPD, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street Arrests, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Press Credentials, Public Photography, Recording Police, Robert Stolarik | No Comments »

Rescheduled: Press Conference on Major Legal Action Concerning Suffolk County Police Department

April 9th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher

UPDATE – April 10, 2012 ************

Due to the emergency situation in Suffolk County caused by wild fires we have decided to reschedule the filing of the lawsuit and press conference against the County. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the brave men and women who are working tirelessly fighting this fire.

Unless the emergency situation continues, the press conference is now scheduled for Wednesday, April 11, 2012. We will confirm and update as to time and location as soon as we have more information on the fire.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

—————————————————-

 April 9, 2012 — Tomorrow at 9:45 a.m. in Central Islip, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, and the National Press Photographers Association will hold a media availability to announce a legal action regarding Suffolk County’s policy and practice of obstructing the First Amendment right of the press and the public to record and gather the news about police activity in public places.

The legal action concerns a July 2011 incident in which professional video journalist Philip Datz was unlawfully arrested and detained by Suffolk County police while filming police activity on a public street in Bohemia, NY.

Mr. Datz, Attorney Robert Balin, a partner with Davis Wright Tremaine, and NYCLU Suffolk County Chapter Director Amol Sinha will be available for interviews tomorrow starting at 9:45 a.m. at the NYCLU Suffolk County Chapter’s office, which is located at Touro Law Public Advocacy center, 225 Eastview Drive in Central Islip. Mickey Osterreicher, NPPA General Counsel will be available by telephone 716.983.7800.

 

Posted in Access, confiscated, Davis Wright Tremaine, False Arrest, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, Lawsuit, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, NYCLU, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording Police, Robert Balin, Sgt. Michael Milton | No Comments »

Florida Prosecutor Drops Charges Against NPPA Member; Lawsuit Filed

March 30th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher

In January of this year Stephen Horrigan, an NPPA member was charged with felony eavesdropping and misdemeanor obstruction for using his cellphone to record a traffic stop by police officers in North Port, Florida. Horrigan came out of his nearby home to see what was going on and determine the newsworthiness of the situation. For doing nothing more than that, as he stood with other members of the public, he ended up spending a night in jail while facing a five year prison term if convicted on the eavesdropping charge. Adding insult to injury the police seized his phone as “evidence” and held it until recently.

On January 30. 2012 NPPA sent a letter to North Port Police Chief Kevin Vespia, strongly objecting to “the treatment and arrest of NPPA member and freelance photojournalist Stephen P. Horrigan.” The letter went on to state “in addition to the arrest, the fact that Mr. Horrigan’s camera was unlawfully seized is also extremely troubling. We believe that his video of the incident will show that officers acted in an arbitrary, capricious and unprofessional manner and appeared to have no concept of the First and Fourth Amendment rights granted under the United States Constitutions as well as similar protections provided by Florida law.” The letter concluded with the request “that the charges against Mr. Horrigan be immediately dropped; that his equipment and any recordings made by him be immediately returned; and that this incident be fully investigated. We further request that your department immediately issue orders directing officers to cease such activity and also that your department implement revised training for all officers regarding these matters.”

This case was covered extensively in the press by Billy Cox of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Carlos Miller of Photography is Not a Crime. As a justification for trampling on the rights of a citizen they produced a Probable Cause Affidavit and also referred to “a legal guideline that our officers have read and discussed during roll call. The issue here is not the video portion but the audio portion. This is the current guideline we use for cases like these. The guideline was issued by the legal counsel of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and permission was granted for distribution,” according to North Port Police Captain Robert Estrada, in an email.

After reviewing that “January 2010 North Port Police Bulletin #10-12” along with a Law Enforcement News Letter the NPPA sent a scathing email back to Captain Estrada and Chief Vespia citing cases and correcting the misinformation provided in the bulletin concerning the circumstances under which there may and may not be a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Although there had been some positive dialogue between NPPA and the North Port Police there was no response to the email or even acknowledgement that it had been received.

In February an attorney from the Florida ACLU, Andrea Mogensen agreed to represent Mr. Horrigan, who as of March 11, 2012 had still not heard from the State Attorney’s Office (SAO) as to whether they planned to move forward on the original charges. On March 13, 2012 the Herald-Tribune printed a column by Eric Ernst supporting Horrigan’s’ position. Shortly thereafter Horrigan filed (on his own) a Motion for Hearing: A Plea for Relief from Prior Restraint seeking the return of his smartphone, battery and memory card, and alleging, among other things that the seizure of those items violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 4 of the State of Florida Constitution as being a form of prior restraint on his ability to publish that material. He also asserted that as the operator of “a web-site news-gathering ‘blog’ and dues paying member of the National Press Photographers Association” he may not have any greater rights under the First Amendment than the public but that he enjoyed no less right because of it.

A week later a detective came to his house at 7am to tell him that he could pick-up his phone at the evidence room. In utter surprise he found that the video had not been deleted, although he believes that it had been viewed or copied. He posted it on YouTube for everyone to see. So far it has over 4,200 hits. The Herald- Tribune posted an editorial urging police, prosecutors and legislators to improve their guidelines, training and practices and also revise the eavesdropping statute.

Yesterday the SAO declined to prosecute and dropped the charges, noting in a memo that the people could not meet their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and also questioned whether the officer had an expectation of privacy in this instance. As for the “resisting, obstructing, or opposing an officer without violence charge,” State’s Attorney Eric Werbeck concluded that Horrigan did not meet any of the elements constituting that crime either.

While the NPPA is gratified to see that prosecutors had the common sense to drop these charges (as has happened in almost all such cases around the country) it is too bad that the North Port police did not use the same good judgment. As is often said in police parlance “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” The latter choice resulted in six-figure settlements in two recent cases. Once again, it appears that police ignorance and arrogance concerning constitutional rights may result in another costly combination, ultimately born by taxpayers who can ill afford it.

In a late-breaking development Ms. Mogensen announced in a press release that she has filed a notice with the City of North Port claiming monetary damages in excess of $200,000.00 based upon false arrest, retaliation for the exercise of First Amendment rights, and malicious prosecution.

Posted in Access, confiscated, detained, False Arrest, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Florida, FLorida ACLU, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, Lawsuit, Legal, Malicious Prosecution, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Forum, Public Photography, Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, Recording, Recording Police, retaliation for the exercise of First Amendment rights, Search and Seizure, video cameras | No Comments »