Police Intimidation Watch: Photog Sues a Long Island Police Department

Posted by on Wednesday April 11, 2012 | Photojournalism

Freelance videographer Philip Datz has sued Suffolk County (New York) and one of its police officers in federal court for violation of his constitutional rights over an encounter last July that ended in Datz’s arrest. He is seeking unspecified damages, and a court order to bar the Suffolk County police from interfering with journalists.

Datz, who contributes to Stringer News Service to provide footage for local TV news broadcasts, was shooting the scene of an arrest of a criminal suspect on a public street in Bohemia, New York last July 29 when Sgt. Michael Milton approached Datz and repeatedly ordered him to “go away.” The scene took place in public view. Datz asked where he could continue filming, but Milton said “no place” and told Datz he would “get locked up” if he didn’t leave.

After Datz moved farther down the street and continued recording, Milton arrested him, allegedly injuring Datz’s shoulder in the process. According to the lawsuit, police handcuffed Datz to a desk at a police station, and held him for two hours before charging him with “obstructing governmental administration.”

Prosecutors dismissed the charges in August, Datz says in the lawsuit.

Datz recorded the encounter with Sgt. Milton on this video, which Datz says is unedited:

In his civil claim, filed today in US District Court in Manhattan, Datz claims that his arrest and detention “was not a rogue event. Suffolk County police officers have a longstanding and ongoing pattern of unlawfully interfering with the recording of police activity conducted in public view.” Datz cites more than a dozen other past incidents where police allegedly prevented him from making video recordings of police activity in public.

Datz alleges that Sergeant Milton violated his First Amendment right to record official police activity in a public location, his Fourth Amendment right protecting him from unlawful search and seizure of his property (namely his video recorder), and his Fourteenth Amendment protection against unlawful arrest.

Datz is asking the court to declare that his constitutional rights were, in fact, violated by Milton and Suffolk County. He is also compensatory and punitive damages, a court order barring the county from interfering with the rights of its citizens and press, and a court order to compel the police department to implement a First Amendment training policy for its police officers.

Datz filed suit with the support of the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Press Photographers Association.

A spokesperson for the Suffolk County police department declined to comment about the lawsuit, citing a department policy against commenting on pending litigation.



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