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

April 11th, 2012

Police Intimidation Watch: Photog Sues a Long Island Police Department

Freelance videographer Philip Datz has sued Suffolk County (New York) and one of its police officers in federal court for violation of his constitutional rights over an encounter last July that ended in Datz’s arrest. He is seeking unspecified damages, and a court order to bar the Suffolk County police from interfering with journalists.

Datz, who contributes to Stringer News Service to provide footage for local TV news broadcasts, was shooting the scene of an arrest of a criminal suspect on a public street in Bohemia, New York last July 29 when Sgt. Michael Milton approached Datz and repeatedly ordered him to “go away.” The scene took place in public view. Datz asked where he could continue filming, but Milton said “no place” and told Datz he would “get locked up” if he didn’t leave.

After Datz moved farther down the street and continued recording, Milton arrested him, allegedly injuring Datz’s shoulder in the process. According to the lawsuit, police handcuffed Datz to a desk at a police station, and held him for two hours before charging him with “obstructing governmental administration.”

Prosecutors dismissed the charges in August, Datz says in the lawsuit.

Datz recorded the encounter with Sgt. Milton on this video, which Datz says is unedited:

In his civil claim, filed today in US District Court in Manhattan, Datz claims that his arrest and detention “was not a rogue event. Suffolk County police officers have a longstanding and ongoing pattern of unlawfully interfering with the recording of police activity conducted in public view.” Datz cites more than a dozen other past incidents where police allegedly prevented him from making video recordings of police activity in public.

Datz alleges that Sergeant Milton violated his First Amendment right to record official police activity in a public location, his Fourth Amendment right protecting him from unlawful search and seizure of his property (namely his video recorder), and his Fourteenth Amendment protection against unlawful arrest.

Datz is asking the court to declare that his constitutional rights were, in fact, violated by Milton and Suffolk County. He is also compensatory and punitive damages, a court order barring the county from interfering with the rights of its citizens and press, and a court order to compel the police department to implement a First Amendment training policy for its police officers.

Datz filed suit with the support of the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Press Photographers Association.

A spokesperson for the Suffolk County police department declined to comment about the lawsuit, citing a department policy against commenting on pending litigation.