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…)

June 14th, 2012

Police Intimidation Watch: Mannie Garcia Files $500K Lawsuit for Unlawful Arrest

Veteran news photographer Mannie Garcia has sued several Montgomery County, Maryland police officers, alleging violation of his civil rights and physical and emotional suffering as a result of being “manhandled” and arrested without cause in June, 2011. Garcia is seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages to be determined.

Garcia, who lost his White House Press Pass as a result of his arrest, was confronted by the police officers after he began recording them arresting two Hispanic men on the night of June 16, 2011. The incident occurred in Wheaton, Maryland after Garcia left a restaurant and happened to see police arresting the men.

According to his claim, Garcia became concerned that the police action “might be inappropriate and/or that they might be using excessive force.” Garcia took his camera out and began recording. He was then approached by one of the officers, and identified himself as a member of the press.

Garcia said nothing else, however, but moved further back when a second officer shined a flashlight in his face.

According to Garcia’s lawsuit, the first officer “did not like the fact that Mr. Garcia continued to record their actions with the camera, so he lost his temper, became enraged, screamed, ‘That’s it!’ and placed Mr. Garcia under arrest.”

Garcia alleges that the first officer placed him in a choke hold, dragged him across the street to a police cruiser, and “repeatedly threw Mr. Garcia to the ground” before handcuffing him. He alleges that he sustained injuries to his neck, shoulder and back “while being manhandled” during his arrest.

According to police reports, Garcia was arrested for disorderly conduct. His camera was confiscated at the scene, and Garcia was taken to a police station, where he alleges that he saw one of the officers remove the battery and memory card from his camera. The camera was eventually returned without the memory card.

While he was awaiting trial, the Secret Service became aware of the charges against him and revoked his White House Press Pass. He was unable to work as a result, he says in his lawsuit.

Finally, Garcia came before a judge in a bench trial last December and was found not guilty on all charges against him.

Garcia is suing on the grounds that the Montgomery Count police officers violated his First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The violations included unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, cruel and unusual punishment, malicious prosecution, deprivation of his property without due process, and interference with his right of free speech.

In addition to naming the arresting officers as defendants, Garcia is also suing Montgomery County and its chief of police for failing to properly train police officers–specifically, for failing to train them that openly recording a police officer is a lawful act in Maryland.

Garcia also alleges that the county is indifferent to police misconduct, and that it fails to investigate complaints of misconduct or discipline officers who engage in misconduct. (Garcia says his complaints to the police about misconduct of the officers were ignored.)

Garcia filed his claim in the US District Court for the District of Maryland, Southern Division. (Case 8:12-cv-01711-DKC)

A trial date has not been set.

Related articles:

Police Intimidation Watch: Photog Sues a Long Island Police Department
Police Intimidation Watch: Photographers Cleared of Charges in New York, Seattle
Department of Justice Warns Police Against Violating Photographers’ Rights