July 21st, 2014

First Amendment Advocate Sues NYPD, NYC Over Right to Record Police Activity

A crusader for citizens’ rights to record police officers performing their duties in public has sued the City of New York and several police officers, seeking monetary damages for unlawful arrest, and a declaratory judgment in defense of citizens’ constitutional rights to record police without fear of intimidation or retribution.

Plaintiff Debra Goodman asserts in her lawsuit that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) “maintains a policy, practice and custom in which officers interfere with there rights of individuals who….are recording or attempting to record officers performing their official duties in public” and that top brass in the police department is ignoring the problem. Goodman sued July 14 in US District Court in New York City.

Goodman claims she was on a public sidewalk September 25, 2013 trying to record an interaction between a wheelchair-bound homeless person and police and emergency medical technicians. She was standing about 30 feet away from the scene, and “was not obstructing or interfering with the police officers,” when an officer approached her and began recording Goodman with his own cell phone, according to her lawsuit.

Goodman told the officer that she had the right to record him, but he didn’t have the right to record her, which resulted in a “verbal exchange” that ended quickly with Goodman’s arrest. According to her complaint, she was roughed up during the arrest and held for 25 hours.

Goodman asserts in her suit that the arrest was “motivated and substantially caused by [her] attempt to record events” and that police “demonstrated a callous indifference to and willful disregard of [Goodman's] federal and state protected rights.”

Prosecutors eventually dropped criminal charges against her; her lawsuit doesn’t specify what those charges were.

According to the lawsuit, Goodman regularly recorded police activity during the two years leading up to her arrest because “she believes such recording and posting on social media helps to ensure the police remain accountable to the public and prevents police misconduct.”

Goodman’s lawsuit cites two examples of NYPD officer misconduct coming to light because of video recordings made by eyewitnesses. In one case, an officer was fired for shoving a man violently off a bicycle, then claiming the bicyclist had run into him. In another case, the City of New York refused to defend a police officer in a civil lawsuit after he was caught on video using pepper spray on two women during an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011.

To bolster her claim that NYPD has a pattern of interfering with citizens who record them, Goodman cites several incidents in which police allegedly arrested citizens for recording them, forcibly deleted videos showing policy activity, or ordered citizens to erase videos in order to avoid arrest.

Goodman’s lawsuit also cites cases in other cities–including Boston, Baltimore, and Indianapolis–where courts have upheld the constitutional rights of citizens to record police, and police departments have agreed to institute programs to train rank-and-file police officers about those rights.

In addition to asking the court for a declaratory judgment in defense of her own and others’ constitutional rights, Goodman is seeking a permanent injunction against the city and the NYPD from retaliating against anyone who “records or attempts to record” police officers performing their duties in public. She is also seeking unspecified damages for violation of her First, Fourth, and Fourtheenth Amendment rights, as well as for assault and battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.

The City of New York has yet to file a response to Goodman’s lawsuit.

Related:
Baltimore to Pay $250K for Videos Deleted by Police: A Vindication for Photographers’ Rights
Police Intimidation Watch: Boston to Pay $170K for Wrongful Arrest of Videographer
Police Intimidation Watch: Cop Charged With Lying About a Photographer’s Arrest
NH Town to pay $75K to Settle First Amendment Claim in Traffic Stop Video Case
PDN Video: A Photographer’s Guide to the First Amendment and Dealing with Police Intimidiation

June 18th, 2014

Suffolk County Pays $200K to Settle News Photographer’s Unlawful Arrest Claim

Frame grab from Philip Datz's recording of an enoucnter with a police officer that led to his arrest. The officer shown here repeatedly ordered Datz to "go away." When Datz questioned the order, the officer said, "There's nothing you can hold over my head."

Frame grab from Philip Datz’s recording of an encounter with a police officer that led to his arrest. The officer shown here repeatedly ordered Datz to “go away.” When Datz questioned the order, the officer said, “There’s nothing you can hold over my head.”

Suffolk County, New York  has agreed to pay freelance news videographer Philip Datz $200,000 to settle civil rights claims stemming from Datz’s unlawful arrest for recoding county police activity on a public street in 2011. In addition, the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) will institute an ongoing training program for its officers to safeguard “the constitutional right of the public and press to observe, photograph and record police activity in locations open to the public,” according to the settlement terms.

The settlement agreement was approved by the Suffolk Count legislature yesterday.

“This settlement is a victory for the First Amendment and for the public good,” Datz said in a prepared statement posted by NPPA, which helped Datz make his Civil Rights claim. “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.”

Datz, a freelancer, provides footage for local TV news broadcasts. He was shooting the scene of an arrest of a criminal suspect in Bohemia, New York on July 29, 2011 when a county police sergeant approached him and repeatedly ordered him to “go away.” Datz asked where he should stand to continue taping, but the police sergeant said “no place” and threatened to jail Datz if he didn’t leave the scene.

Datz moved down the street and continued recording, and was promptly arrested. Police confiscated his camera and videotape. According to his lawsuit, Datz suffered a shoulder injury during his arrest, and was handcuffed to a police station desk for two hours before police charged him with “obstructing governmental administration.”

Datz recorded the moments leading up to his arrest, during which a police officer confronted him and told him he was prohibited from filming the scene, even from a distance. The officer repeatedly told Datz to “go away” repeatedly. Datz moved a block away, and when he resumed recording, the officer sped up to him in a patrol car and placed him under arrest.

Datz posted the video on YouTube afterwards, and prosecutors ended up dismissing the charges against him in August, 2011. Datz then sued, claiming his arrest was unlawful and that police had violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Under the terms of the settlement, Suffolk County and the SCPD admitted no wrongdoing.

Related:
Police Intimidation Watch: Photog Sues a Long Island Police Department

NH Town to Pay $57K to Settle First Amendment Claim in Traffic Stop Video Case

PDN Video: A Photographer’s Guide to the First Amendment and Dealing with Police Intimidation

June 17th, 2014

NH Town Pays $57K to Settle First Amendment Claim in Traffic Stop Video Case

The town of Weare, New Hampshire, has paid $57,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a citizen who was arrested in 2010 after attempting to videotape a traffic stop, according to a report by the New Hampshire Union Leader.

The settlement came after a federal appeals court in Boston affirmed the constitutional rights of citizens to record police during traffic stops, subject to some “reasonable” restrictions.

Plaintiff Carla Gericke claimed in her lawsuit that her First Amendment rights were violated because police charged her with federal wiretapping violations in retaliation for recording them during the traffic stop.

Gericke was in her car, following a friend who was driving another car, when Weare police pulled her friend over in a late-night traffic stop on March 24, 2010. From a nearby parking lot, Gericke waited for her friend–and told the officer who had pulled her friend over that she was going to videotape the encounter. She pointed her camera, but unbeknownst to the police officer, it failed to record.

The officer ordered Gericke to return to her car, and she complied. When another officer arrived at the scene, he asked Gericke where her camera was, but she refused to tell him. She also refused his request to produce her license and registration. She was arrested and charged with disobeying a police officer, and with “unlawful interception of oral communications”–the wiretapping violation.

After prosecutors declined to press those charges against Gericke, she sued Weare police for violation of her First Amendment rights. Police asked the court to dismiss her claim on the grounds of qualified immunity, arguing there was no clearly established right to film a traffic stop.

The lower court declined to dismiss the case, ruling that because the facts of the the case were in dispute, a jury–and not the court–had to decide whether police were entitled to qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity provides government officials “with breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments,” according to court papers.

When the trial court declined to dismiss the case, police appealed.

The appeals court said police would be entitled to summary judgment if Gericke had not been exercising her First Amendment rights at the time of her arrest OR if a reasonable police officer could have concluded that she was not exercising those rights.

In determining that Gericke was exercising her First Amendment rights, The appeals court cited its own 2011 ruling in the case of Simon Glik v. Cunniffee, holding that “the Constitution protects the right of individuals to videotape police officers performing their duties in public.”

“Those First Amendment principles apply equally to the filming of a traffic stop and the filming of an arrest in a public park,” the court said.

Glik had been filming police officers making an arrest in a public park in Boston when he was arrested. He won a $170,000 settlement from the City of Boston in 2012 for violation of his Civil Rights.

In considering whether a reasonable police officer could have concluded that Gericke was not exercising her First Amendment rights, the appeals court noted that “Reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right to film may be imposed when the circumstances justify them.”

Because traffic stops can be particularly dangerous to police, restrictions might be justified in some instances.  “Reasonable orders to maintain safety and control, which have incidental effects on an individual’s exercise of the First Amendment right to record, may be permissible,” the court said.

But according to Gericke’s version of events, the court found, “no such restriction was imposed or in place” because police hadn’t ordered her to leave the scene, or told her to stop recording.

“Thus, under Gericke’s version of the facts, any reasonable officer would have understood that charging Gericke with illegal wiretapping for attempted filming that had not been limited by any order or law violated her First Amendment right to film,” the appeals court said. (The court accepted Gericke’s version of the facts only for the purposes of deciding whether the case should be dismissed without a trial).

Moreover, the appeals court said, “A jury could supportably find that the officers violated her First Amendment right by filing the wiretapping charge against her because of her attempted filming of [the officer] during the traffic stop.”

Although police still had the option to appeal to the US Supreme Court or argue their case for qualified immunity before a jury, the town of Weare decided to settle the case. It was settled without any admission of wrongdoing on the part of police, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Related:
Police Intimidation Watch: Boston to Pay $170,000 for Wrongful Arrest of Videographer
PDN Video: A Photographer’s Guide to the First Amendment and Dealing with Police Intimidation

April 24th, 2014

If Photography Is Not a Crime, When Will Police Get the Message?

In February, just as the City of Baltimore was hammering out a legal settlement to end police interference with photographers, Baltimore police forcibly removed a Baltimore Sun photo editor from the scene of a shooting on a public street. That action underscored a seemingly intractable problem: getting the message to rank-and-file police officers that people have a constitutional right to photograph police carrying out their duties in public.

Judges have repeatedly thrown out criminal charges against photographers arrested while photographing police activities in public. Cities have had to pay to settle claims of civil rights violations stemming from some of the arrests. The City of Boston, for instance, agreed in 2012 to pay $170,000 to settle a videographer’s civil rights claims over his arrest for videotaping police arresting another person on the Boston Common. Baltimore ended up paying $250,000 as part of its recent settlement with Christopher Sharp, who alleged that police erased the videos on his iPhone after detaining him for using the iPhone to record the arrest and beating of another person.

And yet the incidents of police interference with photographers continue apace. No sooner is one case settled, when another incident or claim pops up.

“It certainly is like playing a game of whack-a-mole,” says attorney Mickey Osterreicher of the National Press Photographers Association. (more…)

April 17th, 2014

Baltimore To Pay $250K for Videos Deleted by Police: A Vindication of Photographers’ Rights

Christopher Sharp, plaintiff in Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department

Christopher Sharp, plaintiff in Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department (source: ACLU video)

The City of Baltimore and its police department have agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a claim of unlawful seizure and destruction of cell phone videos that belonged to a citizen who allegedly recorded police arresting and beating another person.

Police have admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed as part of the settlement to issue a written apology to Christopher Sharp, the plaintiff in the case.

In addition, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD)  has agreed to adopt a comprehensive and detailed written policy intended to protect the rights of citizens to photograph and record police activity from anywhere those citizens have a legal right to be, without interference or intimidation from police. (more…)

February 20th, 2014

Hartford Police Sued for Stopping Camera Drone, Chasing Photog Away

A news photographer has sued the Hartford, Connecticut police department and two of its officers for forcing him to stop flying a camera-equipped drone over the scene of a police investigation.

Photographer Pedro Rivera, who works for television station WFSB, was briefly detained for questioning and ordered to stop flying the remote-controlled drone over the scene of a fatal traffic accident on February 1.

Rivera was not on duty for WFSB television and was not gathering video for the station at the time, he told police at the scene. But he acknowledged to police that he sometimes provides video footage from his drone to the TV station.

After he was detained, police ordered him to leave the scene. Rivera alleges that police then called his employer, and told a supervisor that Rivera had interfered with a  police investigation. Police urged the station to discipline Rivera, he alleges in the lawsuit.

He was suspended from his job “for at least one week,” the lawsuit says.

Rivera says police violated his First Amendment rights to “monitor” the police response to a motor vehicle accident, and his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure.

Rivera asserts in his lawsuit that “private citizens do not need local, state or federal approval to operate a remote-controlled aircraft” and that police had no cause to believe he was “in violation of any law or regulatory requirement.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the position that commercial use of drones is illegal, and that journalism amounts to commercial use of the vehicles, according to an NPPA report. That report also notes that some critics say there is no legal basis for the FAA’s position.

Rivera is seeking compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress, as well as punitive damages. In addition, he is asking the court for a declaratory judgment that he wasn’t violating any laws by flying the drone, and for an injunction to prevent Hartford police from “interfering with the lawful operation of drones within city limits.”

Hartford police have yet to file a response to Rivera’s claims, and they did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Related:
PDN Video: A Photographer’s Guide to the First Amendment and Dealing with Police Intimidation
Police Intimidation Watch: New Haven Police Sued for Arresting Photographer, Erasing iPhone Video

February 20th, 2014

PDN Video: A Photographer’s Guide to the First Amendment and Dealing with Police Intimidation

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, news photographers have been subject to police intimidation and arrest, as if photography is a crime. But federal law protects photography and photographers, as Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel to the National Press Photographers Association, explains in this video. The challenge for photographers is knowing how to assert your rights in tense situations, without getting arrested. Osterreicher offers practical tips for staying out of trouble while getting the pictures you need. And for photographers unfortunate enough to get arrested, he suggests places to call for legal help.

Related:

Police Intimidation Watch: New Haven Police Sued for Arresting Photographer, Erasing iPhone Video

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

Police Intimidation Watch: Cop Charged with Lying About a Photographer’s Arrest

November 21st, 2013

Media Protest White House Limits on Photographers

Visual press release? President Obama and Vice President Biden met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the Oval Office, July 30, 2013. Media organizations say their photographers were excluded on the grounds that it was a "private meeting." The White House issued this photo by staff photographer Chuck Kennedy afterwards.

“Visual press release”? President Obama and Vice President Biden met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the Oval Office, July 30, 2013. Media organizations say photojournalists were barred because the administration declared it a “private” meeting.  The White House issued this photo by staff photographer Chuck Kennedy afterwards via Flickr.com.

More than three dozen news organizations and journalists’ trade associations have submitted a joint letter of protest to the Obama administration, charging it with denying the news media the right to photograph and videotape President Obama while he is performing his official duties.

“We write to protest the limits on access currently barring photographers who cover the White House,” the letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney began. “We hope this letter will serve as the first step in removing these restrictions and, therefore, we also request a meeting with you to discuss this critical issue further.”

To get Carney’s attention, the letter includes an indirect threat of legal action on First Amendment grounds. It says the restrictions on photographers “raise constitutional concerns,” and goes on to cite a 1980 Supreme Court ruling that protects the First Amendment right of the press to access information about the operation of government.

The letter was delivered to Carney today. It was signed by all major TV news networks, wire services, major newspapers, as well as American Society of Media Photographers, National Press Photographers Association, and other organizations.

“As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government,” the letter says.

It accuses the administration of excluding photographers by labeling the President’s meetings as “private events.” The letter lists 8 examples of meetings that amounted to “governmental activity of undisputed and wide public interest,” including meetings between the President and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, and other officials, dignitaries, and activists.

After all but one of the meetings, the White House issued official White House photos of the meetings, according to the letter.   “You are, in effect, replacing independent photojournalism with visual press releases,” news organizations complained to Carney in the protest letter.

The letter says that previous administrations were more transparent, and adds, “[T]he restrictions imposed by your office on photographers undercut the President’s stated desire to continue and broaden that tradition.”

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the letter.

The Obama administration has been subject to past criticism for its handling of the press.

For instance, the Committee to Protect Journalists says in a recent report, “Despite President Barack Obama¹s repeated promise that his administration would be the most open and transparent in American history, reporters and government transparency advocates said they are disappointed by its performance in improving access to the information they need.

“”This is the most closed, control freak administration I¹ve ever covered,’ said David E. Sanger, veteran chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times.”

The Times was one of the 38 organizations that signed today’s letter of complaint to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

September 19th, 2013

Police Intimidation Watch: New Haven Police Sued for Arresting Photographer, Erasing iPhone Video

A New Haven man jailed for recording New Haven, Connecticut police arresting three people filed a $500,000 lawsuit suit yesterday against the city and several individual officers for violation of his civil rights.

Luis Luna, a medical interpreter, was jailed in September, 2010 after he came upon police making the arrests, and began recording the incident with his iPhone. At the scene was Assistant Chief Ariel Melendez, who approached Luna, snatched his phone away, and ordered him arrested, according to a report in the New Haven Independent.

Luna’s iPhone was returned when he was released from jail four hours later, but his videos had been erased.

In his court appearance two weeks later, Luna contested the charges of interfering with a police officer. Prosecutors agreed to drop that charge on condition that Luna plead guilty to a charge of “creating a public disturbance,” and pay a $50 fine. Without legal representation to fight the more serious charge, Luna agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge and pay the fine.

Police internal affairs investigators later issued a report charging the assistant chief who ordered Luna’s arrest and the erasure of the video with “conduct unbecoming an officer.” The investigators said that Luna had acted legally, and that the assistant chief had violated his rights, according to the New Haven Independent.

As a result of the internal affairs report, Luna was able to get his guilty plea for “creating a public disturbance” reversed. Assistant Chief Melendez has since retired, and the New Haven police department also issued a new policy to prevent officers from interfering with the rights of citizen journalists.

In his lawsuit, Luna charged Melendez and the City of New Haven with false arrest, violation of his First Amendment rights, and illegal seizure in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights. He is seeking $500,000 in damages and a declaration from the court that it is illegal for the police to arrest anyone for filming them while carrying out their duties in public.

Related:
Department of Justice Warns Police Against Violating Photographers’ Rights
Police Intimidation Watch: Cop Charged with Lying About a Photographer’s Arrest
Police Intimidation Watch: Detroit Police Apologize After Video Shows Them Violating Photographer’s Rights

March 21st, 2012

Police Intimidation Watch: Journalists Detained for Being Present at a Chicago News Event

Chicago police detained two journalists outside a hospital as they waited on a public sidewalk to interview the family of a young shooting victim, according to the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP).

In this video of the incident, the arresting officer says, “Your First Amendment rights can be terminated if you create a scene. Your First Amendment rights have limitations.” The journalists asked how they were creating a scene, and the arresting officer responded, “Your presence is creating a scene.”


(Note: NBC, which owns this video, may run a short advertisement before it plays)

The journalists, a radio reporter and TV cameraman, were held in a police vehicle and released after ten minutes without charges, according to RCFP.

National Press Photographers Association attorney Mickey Osterreicher, who has been kept busy lately reading the US Constitution to police departments all over the country, sent a letter of protest to the Chicago Superintendent of Police. Osterreicher wrote that it isn’t the duty of police officers “to decide what is appropriate news coverage of any story.

“It is apparent that the two journalists were not charged because…there was no criminal trespass and your officers’ overreaction by detaining them in a catch-and-release manner only served to prevent them from carrying out their professional and lawful function,” Osterreicher wrote. “It was nothing less than a blatant disregard of the First and Fourth Amendment.” (The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unlawful search and seizure by police.)