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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 »

NPPA Member Wins Major Victory Against Suffolk County Police Department

June 17th, 2014 by Wills Citty and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NPPA member Philip Datz today won a major settlement from the Suffolk County Police Department in a civil rights suit stemming from Datz’s arrest while filming law enforcement activity on a public street.   Under the terms of the settlement, Suffolk County agreed to pay Datz $200,000, implement a new training program (including a training video), and create a Police-Media Relations Committee.

The NPPA, attorneys from the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine (DWT) and the NYCLU worked with Datz, a freelance videographer, to file a federal lawsuit after Suffolk County prosecutors dropped charges resulting from his 2011 arrest.  In July of 2011 Datz was filming police activity from a public sidewalk when Suffolk County Police Sergeant Michael Milton confronted him (VIDEO), demanding he leave the area immediately.  Datz was wearing his press credentials at the time and was standing near several other onlookers, who were not asked to leave.  Although no police lines had been established, Datz complied and then drove a block away. He was filming from there when Sergeant Milton came speeding up in his police cruiser, placed Datz under arrest for obstruction of governmental administration, and seized his camera and videotape.

Led by attorney Robert Balin, DWT filed suit on Datz’s behalf in 2012, claiming the unlawful arrest violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights as well as the Privacy Protection Act of 1980.  Rather than take the case to trial, SCPD agreed to the settlement payment, and a series of relief measures aimed at educating its officers on the rights of the public and press to observe and record police activity.  As part of these measures,  SCPD officers will now be annually required to watch a training video explaining these rights.  In addition, a newly created Police-Media Relations Committee consisting of representatives of SCPD and local media will be charged with promoting better relations between press and the police and will address complaints regarding police-media relations. Its membership will include a commanding officer in the SCPD, the executive officer of the SCPD’s Public Information Bureau, and members of local print and broadcast media outlets, as well as a freelance videographer or photographer. The SCPD also revised its rules to instruct officers that “members of the media cannot be restricted from entering and/or producing recorded media from areas that are open to the public, regardless of subject matter.”

“This settlement is a victory for the First Amendment and for the public good,” Datz said. “When police arrest journalists just for doing their job, it creates a chilling effect that jeopardizes everyone’s ability to stay informed about important news in their community. Journalists have a duty to cover what the police are doing, and the police should follow the law and respect the First Amendment to ensure they can do that.” Datz has also made a generous donation to the NPPA defense fund.

“We are delighted that Suffolk County has now joined other police departments, the U.S. Department of Justice and numerous courts across the country in recognizing that the public and press have a First Amendment right to photograph and record police officers performing their duties in a public place – a right that is essential to newsgathering and the free discussion of government affairs,” said Robert Balin. “This settlement is a huge victory not just for Phil Datz, but for all journalists and Suffolk County residents. The changes in policy and training agreed to by the County are major steps toward transforming the SCPD culture that led to this unfortunate incident. “The settlement is an encouraging sign in a climate where interference with and unlawful arrest of photographers has become commonplace.

“The National Press Photographers Association commends Suffolk County for working with Phil Datz and his counsel in order to turn a far too commonplace First Amendment violation into a constructive resolution of the case,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the NPPA. “The real challenge now will be to ensure the ongoing training of SCPD officers in order for Suffolk County to be a positive role model for other law enforcement agencies. The NPPA is also extremely appreciative of the tenacious advocacy by Rob Balin, Alison Schary and Sam Bayard of the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine who worked tirelessly on Phil’s behalf. And finally our thanks go to Phil Datz for not only having to endure the abridgment of his civil rights but for his willingness to stand up for his rights and the rights of others.”

The Suffolk County case is just the latest example of a lawsuit forcing local law enforcement to protect, rather than violate, the First Amendment. In March the Baltimore Police Department settled a case brought by the ACLU for a similar amount and also announced a new policy that prohibits officers from stopping people from taping or photographing police actions after officers destroyed a man’s personal, family videos because he taped a police incident, a case in which the U.S. Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest affirming the right of both the public and the press to record police activities in public.

Also see: http://www.freedomtofilm.com/settlement.html  for additional info and links to documents including letter of discipline and Internal Affairs report.

 

Posted in Access, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism | 1 Comment »

First Circuit broadens citizens’ right to record police officers in public

June 16th, 2014 by Tyler Wilson and tagged , , , , ,

The constitutionally protected right to record police officers on duty in public places such as parks, which was affirmed in Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011), has been affirmed by the First Circuit to not only include parks and other traditional public places, but now even routine traffic stops.

In Glik, the plaintiff filmed several Boston police officers arresting a young man on the Boston Commons. The court in Glik held that the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to videotape police officers performing their duties in public, recognizing that it firmly establishes and protects “a range of conduct” surrounding the gathering and dissemination of information. Id. at 82.

The recently decided case of Gericke v Weare broadens this right to include routine traffic stops, concluding that a traffic stop does not extinguish an individual’s right to film. The main question that was presented in Gericke was whether a a routine traffic stop was a police duty carried out in public. The court said yes and compared Glik with Gericke, stating that “those First Amendment principles apply equally to the filming of a traffic stop and the filming of an arrest in a public park. In both instances, the subject of filming is police carrying out their duties in public.” Id.

But the court recognized that there may be some limitations on this right because the circumstances of a traffic stop can potentially become dangerous to an officer, if for example in this case, firearms are present in the stopped vehicle.  Such limitations may come into play when a police officer’s ability to perform his duties are actually impaired.

Reasonable restrictions, such as those of time, place, and manner, on the exercise of the right to film may be imposed when the circumstances justify them. See Glik, 655 F.3d at 84. A police officer can order filming to cease only when he/she can reasonably articulate that the filming itself is interfering, or is about to interfere, with his/her duties. Glik established that a reasonable officer cannot, consistently with the Constitution, prosecute citizens for violating wiretapping laws when they peacefully record a police officer performing his or her official duties in a public area.” Id. (emphasis added).

In Gericke, since there was a genuine factual dispute about whether the plaintiff had been disruptive, the court denied the officers’ motions for summary
judgment on the retaliatory prosecution claim stemming from the wiretapping charge. The First Amendment right to film police activity carried out in public,
including a traffic stop, necessarily remains unrestricted unless it is deemed to be disruptive.

**** Update: Shortly after the decision, the Town of Weare settled the lawsuit for $57,500

Posted in Boston Police, cell phone cameras, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Glik v Cunniffe, Police, Recording, Recording Police, Simon Glik, Uncategorized, video cameras, violating | No Comments »

NPPA files Amicus Brief Supporting Right to Photograph and Record Police in Public

June 2nd, 2014 by Tyler Wilson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The NPPA filed an Amicus Brief today in a federal civil rights lawsuit involving an Austin, Texas man, who says that police violated his constitutional right to photograph and/or film police in a public setting.

In his complaint Antonio Francis Buehler alleged that he was arrested on a number of occasions while recording Austin Police officers performing their official duties in public places. As a result of these incidents Buehler formed the Peaceful Streets Project, a group which routinely videotapes police officers in the city.

Buehler filed suit against the Austin Police Department and several police officers for violations of his civil rights. The defendants in the lawsuit then moved to dismiss the suit, and claimed “qualified immunity,” which protects government officials from being the subjects of lawsuits unless they have violated a clearly established constitutional right.

“The NPPA chose to file an amicus brief so early in this case because of the extraordinary and incredulous claim by the Austin Police Department that ‘the Fifth Circuit does not recognize photographing/videotaping police officers as a constitutional right,’” said NPPA Advocacy Chair Alicia Calzada.

The brief counters the police department’s argument that the “First Amendment right to videotape law enforcement is not a cognizable claim,” as being incorrect as a matter of law and also because it frames the issue far too narrowly.  Rather, the constitutional right to film police officers while on duty has been well established for decades through numerous constitutional decisions that protect the “coextensive” rights of journalists and members of the public to gather information and to hold government officials accountable for their actions, as the First Circuit Court of Appeals held in the 2011 case of Glik v. Cunniffe. In Glik, a citizen was arrested after using his cell phone to photograph Boston police officers he believed were using excessive force in effectuating an arrest. After his charges were dismissed, Glik filed a civil action against the Boston Police Department and won because the First Circuit observed that a citizen’s right to film police officers on duty is a “basic, vital, and well-established liberty protected by the First Amendment.”

Several other cases have affirmed that the right to film police officers while on duty is clear and unambiguous, thus further weakening the Austin Police Department’s dubious claim. Most recently, the First Circuit reaffirmed this principle, denying qualified immunity in a case that involved videotaping police during a traffic stop in the case of Gericke v Begin. The court in Gericke explained that some constitutional principles are self-evident and do not need to have a case directly on point.

The United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has also affirmed this right in  multiple Statements of Interest, explaining that over eighty years of precedent, going back to the 1931 case of Near v. Minnesota, stand for the proposition that “government action intended to prevent the dissemination of information critical of government officials, including police officers, constitutes an invalid prior restraint on the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

The law is also clear that these constitutional protections apply as much to individuals as they do the institutional press, something the NPPA has consistently noted. “NPPA has always fought to uphold the right to photograph and record in public for everyone,” said NPPA Generasl Counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher. “While the press may not have any greater right of access than the public, they have no less right either and the last thing we want is for the government to be the arbiter of who is entitled to ‘Free Speech’ or ‘Free Press’ First Amendment protection,” he added.

The amicus brief was drafted pro bono by attorneys Robert Corn-Revere, Ronald London, and Alison B. Schary, with the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, who have generously supported this and other NPPA efforts to promote and uphold the right to take pictures in public. Corn-Revere, London and Schary were recipients of the 2013 NPPA Kenneth P. McLaughlin Award of Merit for their efforts in support of the First Amendment.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Austin Police, Boston Police, cell phone cameras, Department of Justice, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Glik v Cunniffe, law, Lawsuit, Legal, Newsgathering, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording, Recording Police, Simon Glik, Texas | No Comments »

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 | 26 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 | 195 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 | 43 Comments »

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