Photographer Mannie Garcia has won $45,000 to settle a claim against police in Montgomery County, Maryland for violation of his First Amendment rights in 2011. The claim stemmed from Garcia’s wrongful arrest for video recording and photographing the arrest of two other men outside a restaurant in Wheaton, Maryland.
The settlement came just days before the case was scheduled for trial. “The parties believe it is in their best interests, and those of the citizens of Montgomery County, to bring finality to the case to achieve certainty as to its resolution,” Garcia and county officials said in a joint statement announcing the settlement.
Garcia filed the lawsuit in 2012, after he was acquitted of disorderly conduct charges stemming from his arrest.
According to his lawsuit, Garcia was arrested June 16, 2011, after he left the Wheaton restaurant with his wife and a friend. Garcia, a veteran news photographer based in Washington DC, happened to see county police officers arresting two other men. He thought police were using excessive force, so he began recording the arrest.
When a police officer confronted him, Garcia identified himself as a member of the press. Despite that, police arrested him, allegedly putting him in a chokehold to drag him across the street to a police cruiser. Garcia hit his head when an officer knocked his feet out from under him to throw him into the cruiser. He was taken to jail and charged with disorderly conduct. He later lost his White House credentials because of the charges.
At a bench trial in December, 2011, a state court judge acquitted Garcia of the charges. His video card was never returned. He filed a civil claim for violation of his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights a year later, in federal court in Greenbelt, Maryland. In the claim, he alleged unlawful arrest, physical abuse and malicious prosecution. He said in his claim that he suffered injuries to his neck, shoulder and back during his arrest.
The county denied the allegations, and filed a motion to dismiss the case in 2013. The U.S. Department of Justice then got involved, urging the federal court not to dismiss the case. Meanwhile, the Montgomery County police department updated its police department policies to state explicitly that citizens and journalists have the right to document police activity in public places.
The change in policy reflected similar police policy updates around the same time in other cities, including Baltimore. Those policy updates were a direct response to a raft of civil rights claims by journalists and citizens arrested while recording police carrying out their duties in public. The decisions handed down in a number of those cases have affirmed the First Amendment right of citizens to record police from anyplace the citizen has a right to be, as long as they are not interfering with police activity.
In Garcia’s case, the settlement did not include reimbursement of Garcia’s attorneys’ fees and costs. The court will consider at a later date what the county must pay for that.
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