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NPPA Responds to Arrest of Detroit Free Press Photographer

July 17th, 2013 by Wills Citty and tagged , , , , ,

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.

Posted in confiscated, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Uncategorized | 31 Comments »

California Parks Department Responds to Incident with Film Crew

June 13th, 2013 by Wills Citty 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 | 191 Comments »

NPPA Joins Lawsuit Against NYPD

October 22nd, 2012 by Joan Blazich 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 | 35 Comments »

Charges Against 2 Student Journalists Dropped in Atlanta

October 15th, 2012 by Joan Blazich 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 | 36 Comments »

NPPA General Counsel Helps Keep RNC Journalist-Friendly

August 29th, 2012 by Justice Warren and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor speaks to media prior to a protest march at the Republican National Convention Photo by Mickey H. Osterreicher

Despite fears from some in the media that law enforcement at the Republican National Convention (RNC) would take a combative approach against protestors and journalists, the first three days of the convention have proven to be rather benign, with no reported interference with or arrests of members of the media.

Thanks in part to training programs implemented by Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), law enforcement at the convention in Tampa have attained a better grasp of the balance between the need to protect the public safety with the First Amendment rights of the press.  It was Osterreicher’s hope that the training would help officers better understand those stakes when interacting with journalists at the convention.

“I think it is a combination of a number of factors, from low protester turnout to the threat of a hurricane in Tampa, along with the fact that law enforcement officials were very receptive to training that has contributed very peaceful demonstrations so far,” Osterreicher said.  “I also commend all the officers from various departments around the state for their very  professional, friendly and helpful attitude toward everyone they encounter, especially the press.”

Osterreicher said he reached out to the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office back in February to offer training that would help officers prepare for the August convention.  The law enforcement offices accepted, and Osterreicher held a training session in April during which he highlighted common First Amendment rights violations officers can make when dealing with journalists.  Osterreicher said he commends Tampa law enforcement for agreeing to the training sessions and that he was happy for the opportunity to provide it.

“Leadership comes from the top and Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor and Hillsboro County Sheriff David Gee have been in the forefront not only in fully embracing and supporting the training but in being out on the street with their officers, protesters and media on a daily basis,” Osterreicher said.

Hillsboro County Sheriff David Gee does a “liveshot” via Skype at the scene of police protester confrontation near the Tampa Convention Center during the Republican National Convention. Photo by Mickey H. Osterreicher.

Mauricio Rodriguez, assistant city attorney for Tampa, said that he was pleased by the way officers and protestors have handled themselves to this point during the RNC.  Rodriguez said that the city being proactive and communicating with protestors and the press has helped to keep the waters calm during the hurricane-blighted convention.

That sentiment was shared by Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Larry McKinnon, who said that his office values First Amendment rights and works to keep officers informed of how to deal with protestors and the media.

“We’ll never arrest a protestor,” McKinnon said.  “We’ll only arrest people breaking the law who happen to be protestors.  We encourage the right to protest so long as you’re obeying the law.”

McKinnon credits the NPPA for helping to prepare Tampa law enforcement for the event.  McKinnon notes that in chaotic times officers will not always be perfect, but that the goal of the sheriff’s office is to make sure that mistakes are corrected so everything runs smoothly.

“The NPPA didn’t come down here saying you better do it this way or else,” McKinnon said.  “Mickey knows it’s not gonna be perfect, but that if there was an issue then it would be resolved the best way possible.”

After a 2008 convention season that saw scores of arrests of protestors and journalists during clashes with police, spokeswoman Laura McElroy of the Tampa Police Department said that the department has been excited that there have been few issues to date.  She credits the NPPA for helping to not only train officers but keeping the media in the know for the convention.

“There is a big disparity between what the officers expect and what the media expect at events like these,” McElroy said.  “We are trying to bridge that disparity.”

The RNC concludes on Thursday.  RNC organizers are still preparing contingency plans in the event that Hurricane Isaac derails planned events for the last day of the convention.  The Democratic National Convention, which is hosted in Charlotte, N.C., will take place from Sep. 4-6 and NPPA will be there as well.

 

Posted in Access, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, FL, Florida, Hillsboro County Sheriff's Office, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Recording, Recording Police, RNC, Tampa, Tampa Police Department | 6 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 | 31 Comments »

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

August 10th, 2012 by Justice Warren 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 | 2 Comments »

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