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NPPA & REPORTERS COMMITTEE SEEK DISMISSAL OF CHARGES AGAINST PHOTOJOURNALIST COVERING OCCUPY PROTEST

March 12th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

DURHAM, NC — The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (Reporters Committee) filed a joint “Letter Brief” seeking the dismissal of charges against Bradley Stuart Allen in The People of the State of California v. Becky Ann Johnson et al, Case No. F22194. The brief asserts that Mr. Allen, who is a photojournalist and NPPA member, should not be criminally prosecuted for trespass, vandalism and conspiracy. He was charged after his photographic coverage of an Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest in Santa Cruz, California last year.

Noting that the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedom is meaningless if journalists do not possess a concomitant right to gather the news, the brief states that –  while the allegedly violated statutes may serve important government interests, they cannot be exempt from First Amendment protection. Application of these laws in the prosecution of a journalist engaged in the constitutionally protected act of newsgathering demands careful balancing of these competing interests.

“While journalists may sometimes violate the letter of the law in order to obtain information of public concern, we believe it is extremely important for the court to also consider when such action occurs in the spirit and exercise of First Amendment rights,” said Sean D. Elliot, NPPA president. “Review of visual reportage subject to criminal penalties without that balance unfairly burdens newsgathering at its most critical need of protection,” he added.

This is just the most recent case where journalists have been interfered with and arrested while covering OWS protests throughout the country. In almost every case, those charges — ranging from disorderly conduct and obstruction of governmental administration to trespass — have been dismissed or the defendant journalists have been acquitted.”

About the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)

The NPPA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of visual journalism in its creation, editing and distribution. Since 1946, NPPA has vigorously promoted freedom of the press in all its forms, especially as that freedom relates to visual journalism.

For more information, contact Mickey H. Osterreicher at 716.566.1484 or go to www.nppa.org. You can also follow us on Twitter @nppa.

Posted in Access, Bradley Allen, Conspiracy, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Interest of Justice, law, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Occupy Wall Street Arrests, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Santa Cruz, Vandalism | 3 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 | No Comments »

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