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NPPA Member Wins Major Victory Against Suffolk County Police Department

June 17th, 2014 by 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 | No Comments »

Smithsonian Security Guards Confront Photographer Filming Protest

December 10th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , ,

A veteran photographer is looking for answers after he was accosted by Smithsonian security guards while recording fast food workers protesting at the museum last week.

Kristoffer Tripplaar was at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum to document workers who walked off the job and picketed Thursday as part of a national campaign demanding higher wages. Tripplaar was recording a confrontation between security officers and a fellow photographer, when he says he was pulled into the fracas.

Tripplaar says it started when a security guard pushed the other journalist towards him.  Worried that his equipment would be damaged, Tripplaar leaned forward to take the incoming blow with his body, and in the process collided with the officer.  A second officer quickly approached, claiming Tripplaar had struck his colleague, and a third tackled the photographer to the ground.

Tripplaar says the violent exchange was completely unwarranted, telling Photographer Is Not a Crime “I can’t emphasize enough that I did not lay a finger on the officer.”

Video of the incident shows three officers smothering the photographer, who appears to be trying to protect himself and his equipment.

Tripplaar’s description of the acting supervisor’s reaction to the incident seems to confirm that the security guards overreacted:

“As I was on the ground a security officer that identified himself as a supervisor came over, told them to let me go and offered to help me up. I told him I would not get up until he made the three security officers back off because I was afraid they would grab me again. Once they backed off, I got up and went back to photographing the protest.”

But the ordeal wasn’t over yet:

“Once the protest inside the food court wound down, I approached the supervisor who had helped me to ask for the names of the officers who had grabbed me, one of which was standing next to him. When I did that they both began pushing me towards a door saying it was time for me to leave.”

Tripplaar has contacted the Smithsonian’s press office to file a complaint, and says he’s shocked by the guard’s behavior.

“I’ve been doing this for almost ten years. I cover everything from the White House to the Capitol. I’ve done countless protests, some of them got pretty heated and a little pushy. And I’ve never, ever, ever had something like this happen to me. Ever.”

Posted in Access, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism | No Comments »

Boston Police Backlash Against Recorded Phone Call To Face Test

November 13th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Last August a Boston police officer aggressively confronted a man who was recording law enforcement on a public street. Tomorrow, a judge will decide whether to continue the case against a journalism student charged with illegal wiretapping for calling BPD about the incident and recording his conversation.  The judge will also decide whether to drop charges against a blogger who wrote an article supporting the student.

Taylor Hardy called BPD headquarters for comment after he saw a video of officers forcing a man to leave the area of an investigation.  Hardy recorded his call to Boston Police Spokesperson Angelene Richardson, and later posted the recording to YouTube.

Hardy’s curiosity as to why the officers asked the man to leave is hardly surprising, as courts have repeatedly reaffirmed citizens’ right to record police on public property.

Yet Hardy’s call didn’t yield much, as Richardson said she hadn’t heard about the run-in with the cameraman.  Despite this, when police found the recording of the seemingly innocuous call on Hardy’s YouTube channel, they slapped him with an illegal wiretapping charge.  Richardson claimed he hadn’t asked her permission before recording their conversation (it is illegal to record another person without consent under Massachusetts law).  Hardy says he had consent, but could face five years in prison if convicted.

Photography advocate Carlos Miller wasn’t happy when he heard about Hardy’s ordeal.  Hardy first saw the recording of police on Miller’s website, Photography Is Not A Crime, where Hardy works as a part-time employee.  Miller responded by writing an article calling for BPD to drop the charges. He also asked others to join him, and published Richardson’s office email and phone number in the post.  BPD responded to by filing a criminal complaint against Miller for witness intimidation, claiming he had gone too far by posting Richardson’s contact information.

NPPA President Mike Borland said he’s astonished that it has come to this.

“It’s mind boggling that there are still law enforcement officers in major metropolitan departments who don’t know they can be photographed doing their job in public,” Borland said, “It’s downright maddening the steps being taken in Boston as a result of this ignorance. This snowball of a public relations disaster would not be happening if officers were properly trained and then properly disciplined when they break the rules.”

Miller agreed, adding “there are real issues and real crime in Boston that taxpayers would want money spent on rather than prosecuting people who are simply trying to hold the police accountable for their actions.”

In a statement this morning, the Newspaper Guild- Communication Workers of America joined those demanding Boston Police drop all charges.

A magistrate judge will decide Thursday whether there is probable cause to continue the cases against Hardy and Miller.

It isn’t clear that the charges against Hardy will be dropped, as he didn’t capture Richardson’s consent on tape.  However, the state does carry the burden of proof, so it will need to produce evidence that Richardson didn’t know she was being recorded.

The charge against Miller is even more of a stretch.  It’s difficult to see how posting the office contact information of a public employee could qualify as “intimidating a witness”

The NPPA will continue to shed light on instances where police, due to ignorance of the law or otherwise, refuse to respect photographer’s rights.  Borland added “The NPPA offers to help educate the Boston PD so every officer will know the public’s rights to photograph and record police activity.

********* UPDATE 11/14/13 ***********

Carlos Miller reported yesterday that a Boston Police attorney asked for a continuance of the hearing until next Friday 11/22/13.

Posted in First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Uncategorized | No Comments »