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

August 28th, 2013 by Wills Citty 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 | 225 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 | 47 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 | 40 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 | 9 Comments »

NPPA Attorney Obtains Another Dismissal in Cases Against Photojournalists Covering Occupy Protests

February 21st, 2012 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , ,

Charges were dismissed last week against a New York City photojournalist arrested while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests.

NPPA’s general counsel, Mickey H. Osterreicher, was successful in obtaining court dismissal of charges stemming from the arrest last November of NPPA member Douglas Higginbotham while he was covering the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Charges were dropped “in the interest of justice,” in response to Osterreicher’s motion to dismiss, made on his behalf. Higginbotham was arrested after he stood on top of a phone booth to get a better vantage point of the protest. As he was attempting to get down (after being ordered to do so by police) officers pulled him off his perch and arrested him for disorderly conduct.

NPPA president Sean Elliot said, “I am pleased to see the correct outcome in this case but unfortunately the fact that Mr. Higginbotham was arrested in the first place represents just another example of a disturbing trend in police-press relations.” “I would hope that the NPPA, SPJ and other organizations representing journalists can continue to make headway in educating police officials on how to better work with the media and avoid such incidents as this in the future,” he added.

Ironically, last year while covering a celebration of the death of Osama bin Laden, Higginbotham was helped up onto another nearby phone booth by police and firefighters. “Being a freelancer working in New York for a TV station in New Zealand, I was very concerned and upset after my arrest,” Higginbotham said in an interview. “Knowing that I had NPPA representing me was very reassuring. I am just glad that this episode is over and that the charges were dismissed,” he added.

The Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) provided financial assistance for his defense. “I’m not surprised by the outcome,” said SPJ President John Ensslin. “I felt Doug had a strong case and I know he had a good lawyer.” “We at SPJ are relieved and happy that this case is over and that Doug can go back to doing what he does without the threat of prosecution hanging over his head.”

Watch video of TV New Zealand story and his arrest

Charges were also dropped in January, against Jennifer Weiss, a freelance video and print journalist who had been working for Agence France-Presse covering the clearing of Zuccotti Park on November 15 of last year. She was attempting to get to the scene, when a police officer singled her out for arrest. She identified herself as a journalist, but was not allowed to call her editor until after she was released and was one of several journalists arrested that day. She had been charged with blocking pedestrian traffic and disorderly conduct and was issued an appearance ticket, which Osterreicher succeeded in having dismissed.  Ms. Weiss said, “Mickey was extremely helpful, accessible and answered all my questions — and ultimately got my charges dismissed ahead of my court date. I’m very grateful to him for the time and effort he put in on my case.”

Also in January, Osterreicher represented Jonathan Foster, an NPPA student member who was charged with trespassing after being arrested covering Occupy Rochester. Prosecutors initially refused to drop the charges, but they were dismissed at a hearing on January 12.

NPPA’s attorney also provided support to counsel for Kristyna Wentz-Graff and the Milwaukee Sentinel, and he exchanged letters with the police department and prosecutors in that case. In the original police report, Wentz-Graff was charged with standing on a roadway and obstructing the issuance of a citation. The video of the incident shows that she was about to step onto the sidewalk from the street when the police yanked her back into the street and arrested her. Police claimed that they didn’t know she was a journalist but the video showed her credential hanging around her neck and clearly visible. Prosecutors decided not to issue a citation, which is the equivalent of dismissing the original charges in Wisconsin, on December 19.

Posted in Disorderly Conduct, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, Interest of Justice, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, NYPD, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street Arrests, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording Police, video cameras | 49 Comments »