Police Intimidation Watch: Detroit Police Apologize After Video Shows Them Violating Photographer’s Rights

Posted by on Tuesday July 16, 2013 | Photojournalism

With a public relations mess on its hands, and a video showing that it probably violated the constitutional rights of a Detroit Free Press photographer, the Detroit police department has apologized to the paper’s editors, and promised to issue a directive reminding officers that they can’t interfere with anyone videotaping them in public.

The apology to Free Press editors came after reporter Mandi Wright was arrested while making a video of police arresting a criminal suspect on a public street, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press.

The video (above) shows an officer approaching Wright and ordering her to turn off her iPhone, which she was using to make a video of the arrest.

The officer confiscated the iPhone. Wright was arrested and detained for six hours. During that time, she was allegedly left alone in an interrogation room with the criminal suspect whose arrest she had photographed. Later, her iPhone was returned without its memory card.

The police neglected to erase the phone’s internal memory, so the Free Press was able to show the video of the incident.

The officer who confronted Wright can be heard telling her to “back up” and “turn it off,” referring to her iPhone.

She can be heard in the video identifying herself as a Free Press journalist. The officer responds, “I don’t care who you are.”

Then Wright can be heard on the video saying, “Are you touching me?” as she loses control of the camera, and it shuts off.

Wright was with a Free Press Reporter, Kathleen Gray, who said the officer snatched the phone away from Wright as she pulled it to her chest to try to protect it. Gray said Wright tried to get her phone back, and pulled on the tail of the officer’s shirt as he turned and walked away.

Police later alleged she had jumped on the officer’s back, and said she would be charged with obstructing and assaulting a police officer.

So far, she has not been charged, according to the Free Press report.

The missing memory card, the video showing Wright acting legally, and the allegation that she was endangered by being left alone with the criminal suspect, spurred the Detroit police department to launch an internal investigation of the incident and apologize.

James Toblert, deputy chief of the Detroit police department, said yesterday that the department will soon issue a directive reminding officers they cannot interfere with anyone videotaping them in public.

Police departments around the country have been sued recently for violation of the constitutional right of free speech for interfering with journalists and citizens photographing police activity in public. They have also been sued for violation of fourth amendment rights protecting against unlawful search and seizure, in cases where police have confiscated camera memory cards or erased pictures.

The Detroit Free Press made no mention of taking any legal action against the Detroit Police Department. Instead, the paper took a diplomatic tack, acknowledging “the difficult job that police officers do.”

But the paper also asserted that its reporter “was doing what any journalist — or any citizen — has a right to do in a public place.”

Related stories:
Police Intimidation Watch: Beating a Photojournalist On a Lisbon Street
Police Intimidation Watch: Boston to Pay $170K for Wrongful Arrest of Videographer
Department of Justice Warns Police Against Violating Photographers’ Rights

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