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

August 14th, 2012

Police Intimidation Watch: NYPD Returns Cameras to Times Freelancer

The New York City police department has returned camera gear belonging to a freelance photographer who was arrested August 4 after refusing to stop photographing police activity on a public street.

Photographer Robert Stolarik got his camera equipment back on August 10, the National Press Photographers Association reported on its Web site. Stolarik told NPPA, “The next things for me will be getting the charges dropped and having my credentials returned to me.”

Stolarik was charged with obstruction and resisting arrest after police told him to stop taking pictures at the scene of a street altercation. Solarik was on assignment at time for The New York Times. He identified himself to police as a journalist, and continued taking pictures.

He was then arrested and held overnight. NPPA and The New York Times protested Stolarik’s arrest as an act of intimidation–and a violation of his civil rights.

According to NPPA, New York Times attorney George Freeman is calling on the NYPD to “objectively investigate” Stolarik’s arrest. “We are fully confident that if they look at the facts, they will find that the officers who blocked, intimidated and assaulted Mr. Stolarik acted inappropriately and violated NYPD guidelines,” Freeman told NPPA.

Related story:
Police Intimidation Watch: NYPD Arrests Times Freelancer

August 6th, 2012

Police Intimidation Watch: NYPD Arrests Times Freelancer (Update)

A freelance photographer on assignment for The New York Times was arrested in the Bronx on Saturday night, after police got angry at him for refusing to stop taking pictures of another arrest, the Times has reported.

Photographer Robert Stolarik was accompanying two reporters who were conducting street interviews when they came upon a street confrontation. A police officer at the scene reportedly told Stolarik to stop taking pictures. He identified himself as a journalist for The New York Times, and continued taking pictures. A second police officer came along and “slammed” Stolarik’s camera in to his face, according to the Times story.  When the photographer asked police for their badge numbers, they took his cameras, dragged him to the ground, and arrested him.

According to a police report cited by the Times, police said they had ordered the crowd and Stolarik to move back “numerous” times, and that Stolarik “violently resisted being handcuffed.”

Stolarik received scrapes and bruises during his arrest, but was otherwise uninjured, according to the Times. He was released after several hours. A court appearance is pending.

A lawyer for the Times said, “This is an incident where it seemed the photographer was doing his job taking photographs, and the police overacted and attempted to intimidate him and block him, leading to his arrest.”

Update: In an interview with New York Magazine, Stolarik says he’s out $20,000 in gear and materials, and that the NYPD’s claims that he hit a police officer with his camera is untrue. Trade associations and a journalism organization have taken up his cause. Read more here.

Related Stories:
Police Intimidation Watch: Deputies Rough Up Nevada News Photographer
Police Intimidation Watch: Mannie Garcia Files $500K Lawsuit for Unlawful Arrest

July 25th, 2012

DC Police Department Issues Order Affirming Photographers’ Rights

To settle a right-to-photograph lawsuit filed by an aspiring photojournalist and the ACLU, the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department has issued a general order stating that “a bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record [DC police officers] in the public discharge of their duties.”

The order instructs police not to interfere with anyone photographing police activity as long as the photographer is standing in a public setting or private facility where they have the right to be, and as long as they are not interfering with police activity.

The order also reminds police that still and video photography “of places, buildings, structures and events are common and lawful activities.” And it spells out the limited terms and conditions under which police can seize recordings for evidence.

For photographers and civil rights activists fighting what they perceive as a rising tide of police intimidation and interference against photographers nationwide, the order represents progress. It follows closely a blueprint for police policy to protect the rights of photographers that the US Department of Justice issued earlier this year.

The DOJ blueprint was directed at the Baltimore Police Department, which is being sued for unlawfully seizing, searching and deleting the contents of a citizen’s cell phone after he used it to record police officers making an arrest. The Baltimore Police Department subsequently issued an order declaring that citizens had the right to photograph police activity. But the DOJ said the Baltimore order didn’t go far enough to protect photographers’ (and citizens’) rights because it wasn’t specific enough.

The order issued last week by the Washington DC police department follows the DOJ blueprint almost to the letter, spelling out citizens’ constitutional rights, providing explanations and examples of legal activity and limited exceptions.

The lawsuit lodged against DC police was similar to the case in Baltimore. Jerome Vorus, a student and aspiring photojournalist, began photographing a traffic stop in the Georgetown neighborhood of DC in June, 2010. Police officers told him he was not allowed to photograph, and detained him for half an hour. With help from the ACLU, Vorus sued police for violating his rights. Vorus and the ACLU dropped the claim last week after police agreed to issue the order protecting the right of citizens who photograph the police.

The case in Baltimore, meanwhile, is still pending.

Related stories:
Department of Justice Warns Police Agains Violating Photographers’ Rights
Police Intimidation Watch: Mannie Garcia Files $500K Lawsuit for Unlawful Arrest
Police Intimidation Watch: Photographer Sues Long Island Police Department
Police Intimidation Watch: Boston to Pay $170K for Wrongful Arrest of Videographer

July 19th, 2012

Activist Carlos Miller Laughs at Plea Bargain Offer

Give state prosecutors in Miami Dade County, Florida credit for moxie, if not for unintentional Orwellian humor.

Photojournalist and First Amendment activist Carlos Miller, who is facing charges for resisting arrest during a police raid on an Occupy encampment last January 31, says the Miami Dade County prosecutors have offered to drop charges against him–if he agrees to produce a video promoting the county.
(more…)

July 6th, 2012

Police Intimidation Watch: University of California to Pay Photog $162,500 for Wrongful Arrest

A news photographer who claimed wrongful arrest while covering a student protest in 2009 will receive a $162,500 settlement from the University of California, the San Francisco Chronicle has reported. UC Berkeley police will also receive media rights training as part of the settlement.

UC Berkeley police arrested photographer David Morse at the scene of a protest at the home of the University of California chancellor. Police allegedly told Morse they wanted his camera in order to identify protesters who committed acts of vandalism at the scene. They then arrested Morse along with several others on charges of rioting, arson and vandalism.

Police then got a search warrant to access his images, and they published several of them to get public help identifying people in the photos, according to the San Francisco Chronicle report.

Prosecutors declined to pursue the charges against Morse, who then sued the University of California in federal court after UC Berkeley police refused to compensate him for violation of his rights.

Related stories:
Boston to Pay $170K for Wrongful Arrest of Videographer
Mannie Garcia Files $500K Lawsuit for Unlawful Arrest
Department of Justice Warns Police Against Violating Photographers’ Rights

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

May 16th, 2012

Police Intimidation Watch: Photogs Cleared of Charges in New York, Seattle

A student photographer has been cleared in court of disorderly conduct charges stemming from his arrest in New York City at the scene of an Occupy march in January, the Associated Press reports. Separately, prosecutors in Seattle decided to drop charges against a photographer arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer there during May Day protest, The Seattle Times reports.

Video from the scene of the arrests helped clear the photographers in both cases.

In New York, police accused New York University photography student Alexander Arbuckle of blocking traffic at an Occupy protest march on January 1. He maintained that he was photographing from the sidewalk at the time of his arrest. At trial, the judge dismissed the charges after Arbuckle’s defense attorneys showed a video by another journalist showing police massing near people on the sidewalk, and then arresting them, according to AP.

In the Seattle incident, photographer Joshua Garland was accused of grabbing and twisting the arm of a police officer at a May Day protest in downtown Seattle. The Seattle Times reports that prosecutors decided they couldn’t prove the charges against Garland after his defense attorney showed a video of the incident. According to that same report, the attorney pieced the video together from “video segments posted on YouTube by witnesses and other footage shot by a local television station.”

May 1st, 2012

Police Intimidation Watch: Miami-Dade Police Monitoring Activist Photographer

Photographer Carlos Miller, owner of the Photography Is Not a Crime blog, has learned that the Miami-Dade Police Department is watching him like, well, police states watch dissidents, just looking for reasons to arrest him.

Miller, who has been a tireless critic of police harassment of journalists, was the only person arrested when police cleared the Occupy Miami encampment in January. He recorded his arrest on video, and although police tried to erase it, he later recovered the file and posted it on his blog.

The incident left Miller wondering not only why he was singled out among other journalists for arrest, but also why he was arrested after police had cleared the encampment, broken ranks and were leaving the scene.

It turns out Miller wasn’t just being paranoid. As a result of a Freedom of Information Act request by a citizen, Miller got his hands on internal police e-mails that  show they were on the lookout for him.

Miller recently reported: “Eleven hours before I was arrested during the Occupy Miami eviction in January, the Miami-Dade Police Homeland Security Bureau sent an email to various police officers [including the arresting officer]… It included my Facebook profile photo [and]…the following statement about me: Carlos Miller is a Miami multimedia journalist who has been arrested twice for taking pictures of law enforcement.  He has publicly posted on social networks that he will be taking pictures today in order to document the eviction.”

The e-mail doesn’t instruct officers to arrest Miller, but other e-mails among about 200 released in response to the FOIA request suggest the law enforcement officials are looking for reasons to haul him in. For instance, after Miller posted a picture of the officer who arrested him on his web site, the head of the Miam-Dade Police Department’s Homeland Security Bureau sent an e-mail to a subordinate asking her to look into whether the posting of a police officer’s picture violated any laws. (Miller obtained the photo from a police web site that’s accessible to the public.)

In another e-mail exchange, a police officer tells the officer who arrested Miller, “Carlos Miller is on his high horse again.  He continues to post negative statements regarding law enforcement.  I will continue to monitor for additional information.” The same officer wrote in another e-mail to the arresting officer, “This guy is targeting you and I believe he is trying to get some monetary gain as well as publicity.”

Police also went online to monitor a panel discussion Miller participated in, and ended up putting out another notice about him:  “Carlos Miller stated he intends to to attend the RNC in Tampa August 27-30, 2012 to record and document the event. Proper notifications will be made for situational awareness purposes.”

Apparently, Carlos Miller is being scheduled for another arrest for daring to hold police accountable to the First Amendment. Stay tuned.

Related:
After Arrest, Photog Recovers Deleted Video File and Vows to Sue Police
Other Police Intimidation Watch stories:
Photog Sues Long Island Police Department
Photog Agrees to Community Service for Trespassing on a Public Street
Journalists Detained for Being Present at a Chicago News Event
Beating a Photojournalist on a Lisbon Street