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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 »

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 »

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 »

NPPA Replies to Comments Made by DCPI Browne Regarding “Mythical Arrests” of Journalists in NY

June 9th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , ,

The NPPA has sent a response to comments made by DCPI Paul Browne during an interview with NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Queens Chronicle Editor-in-Chief, Peter C. Mastrosimone.

See:

http://www.qchron.com/editions/queenswide/kelly-talks-policy-and-politics/article_2671bf68-065f-5926-923f-0e6caedf25e2.html

As well as:

http://politicker.com/2012/06/nypd-spokesman-says-stories-of-reporters-arrested-at-occupy-raid-were-a-total-myth/.

The email:

Paul,

I read with disappointing disbelief your recent statement in the Queens Chronicle “that only one journalist was arrested during the operation, despite stories to the contrary,” which you called “a total myth.” I also found it incredulous that given our media coalition letter of November 21, 2011, which addressed the arrests of journalists in and around Zuccotti Park; and during our meeting with you and Commissioner Kelly on November 23, 2011, no one ever raised the issue that “Occupy Wall Street protesters were forging press credentials in an effort to get through the police lines.” To hear you now deny your department’s culpability by claiming that “actual reporters” were not arrested is an absolute revision of history and is more appropriate as part of “1984 Newspeak” than coming from the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information for the NYPD.

I will not get into the actual numbers of “journalists” arrested but suffice to say that many of those arrested have read your comments and find nothing “mythical” about what happened to them. I can also state, after having represented two NPPA members who were arrested and charged, that the court took judicial notice of the letters submitted on their behalf from Agence France Press and TV New Zealand when dismissing their disorderly conduct charges in the interest of justice. Even with updates to the Politicker story now acknowledging “two journalists” being arrested and assertions from Stu Loesser that “there’s no discrepancy” between his November statement that “five credentialed reporters” had been arrested, I would direct your attention to the facts found in the post – setting the record straight.

In a vain attempt to distinguish between real and “fake” journalists I would also suggest that the NYPD take note of the decision in Glik v Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Circuit, 2011) in which the court stated “that the First Amendment right to gather news is . . .  not one that inures solely to the benefit of the news media; rather, the public’s right of access to information is coextensive with that of the press. Houchins, 438 U.S. at 16, 98 S.Ct. 2588 (Stewart, J., concurring) (emphasis added).

The court went on to say “changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.” I cite this case not for the proposition that NYPD cease issuing credentials (although I do have a problem with your onerous credentialing requirements) but for you to consider that your revision of what actually transpired sounds more like the archaic “outside agitators” claim than it does of someone with an understanding of evolving standards of media technology and social policies.

The point is there were far more than one or two journalists who were arrested, detained  or interfered with while trying to cover a matter of public concern. During our meeting in November you in no way suggested otherwise. Journalists should not be arrested for viewing or covering protests in public places as long as they do not interfere with police actions, whether or not they have credentials. Credentials, as your guidelines state, give those journalists additional access in certain circumstances but in no way should that warrant or justify the arrest of non-credentialed observers in a public forum.

While we greatly appreciate the Commissioner issuing his Finest message as a result of our November meeting it appears, given your comments, that there is much more that needs to be done. I take this opportunity to once again offer our expertise in helping to implement improved guidelines and training of officers regarding First and Fourth Amendments rights. I have recently done such training with the Washington DC Metro Police as well as the Chicago, Tampa and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Departments in preparation for the NATO Summit and the upcoming national political conventions in those cities. I personally observed the protests in Chicago and found that the police exercised incredible restraint in handling the protesters and those covering the protests and did not differentiate between credentialed and non-credentialed press in allowing access. As a result only one Getty photographer was arrested during three full days of (non-permitted) protests through the streets of downtown Chicago. Working with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press we were able to have the charges against him immediately reduced and expedite his release on bond.

If you and the Commissioner truly wish the new police academy to be the “West Point of law enforcement” I would strongly urge you to include the media in your training program rather than remain in a state of denial.

I look forward to continuing to strive together in an effort to improve police-press relations, the first step in which is keeping the facts straight.  Thank you for your attention in this matter.

Very truly yours,

Mickey H. Osterreicher
General Counsel
National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)

716.566.1484 (TEL)

716.983.7800 (CEL)
716.608.1509 (FAX)

NOTICE: This message (including any attachments) from Mickey H. Osterreicher, Esq. may constitute an attorney-client communication and may contain information that is PRIVILEGED and CONFIDENTIAL and/or ATTORNEY WORK PRODUCT. If you are not an intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination and/or disclosure, copying, distribution, or the taking of any action in reliance on the contents of this information and/or this message is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please do not read, copy or forward this message. Please permanently delete all copies and any attachments and notify the sender immediately by e-mail and delete the original message. Thank you for your cooperation.

 

 

Posted in Commissioner Raymond Kelly, DCPI Paul Browne, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Mythical Arrests, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, NYPD, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street Arrests, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Politicker, Queens Chronical, Recording Police, Zuccotti Park | No Comments »

Journalism Groups Protest Prosecution of Photojournalist

March 27th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher

Today the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter to the Santa Cruz DA stating they are “deeply concerned by your office’s decision to prosecute Bradley Stuart Allen, a longtime San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center (Indybay) contributor, as well as by assertions from your office that: (1) a reporter may be prosecuted for conspiracy simply by providing coverage of a newsworthy event and (2) Indybay is not a bona fide news organization.”  Mr. Allen was charged with felony conspiracy along with vandalism and tresspassing for his coverage of an “Occupy” demonstration late last year.  

On March 12, 2012 the NPPA along with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter brief to the court seeking  that the charges against him be dismissed in the interest of justice. In the alternative the letter asked for the court to exercise leniency in addressing those offenses. The groups also asserted that because newsgathering is constitutionally protected, the court should carefully weigh the public interest in obtaining information against arguably lesser government interests.

After a hearing last week the judge dismissed the felony vandalism charge, finding that  prosecutors did not meet their burden of presenting sufficient evidence but refused to dismiss  the felony conspiracy and two misdemeanor trespassing charges against him.

The letter sent today by SPJ concluded by saying, “it is wholly inappropriate, and indeed unconstitutional, for a public prosecutor to single out representatives of a disfavored news organization for prosecution. That a photojournalist from The Santa Cruz Sentinel was able to enter the occupied building and report from it without also being subjected to charges brings this abuse into even sharper relief” and strongly urged the DA “to reconsider whether to proceed with this aggressive and dangerous targeting of the independent press.”

Allen’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 29.

Posted in Bradley Allen, condemned, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, law, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street Arrests, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Santa Cruz, Vandalism | No Comments »

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