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.)