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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 »

NPPA Responds to Arrest of Detroit Free Press Photographer

July 17th, 2013 by 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 | No Comments »