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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 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 Returns NY Times Photographer’s Press Credentials

August 23rd, 2012 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today (8/23/12) the New York Police Department (NYPD) returned the press credentials of a New York Times photographer who had his equipment and credentials 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 two weeks ago. Getting my gear back was the first step and now I have my credentials. The next part of this process will be getting the charges dropped.”

The return of his credentials was a result of the efforts by National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) general counsel, Mickey H. Osterreicher and New York Times attorney George Freeman, who expressed his satisfaction with “such a great result.” Osterreicher who negotiated with NYPD legal staff said, “We are very appreciative that the NYPD reconsidered their position with regard to the return of Robert’s credentials but still believe it is unfortunate that they were taken in the first place and we will work very diligently to see that the charges are dismissed.” “We hope the department uses this incident as a teachable moment in improving police-press relations in NY,” Osterreicher added.

The return of the seized equipment on August 10, 2012 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.

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 .”

Posted in Assault on Photographers, confiscated, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, New York TImes, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, NYPD, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Press Credentials, 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 »