December 18th, 2014

Police Intimidation Watch: Photographer Wins $1.1 Million for Malicious Prosecution

A New York woman who was arrested and jailed for four days after photographing an Air National Guard base from a public thoroughfare was awarded $1.1 million in compensatory damages by a federal jury last week.

Nancy Genovese sued the town of Southampton, New York, the Suffolk County sheriff’s department and several individual officers in 2010, alleging violations of her constitutional rights, assault, battery, false arrest, use of unreasonable and excessive force, and malicious prosecution.

In a trial that concluded December 11, jurors concluded that Suffolk County sheriff’s deputy Robert Carlock had maliciously prosecuted Genovese. But Genovese failed to prove that Carlock had initiated criminal proceedings because of her political associations. Therefore, the jury found that Carlock was not liable for violating Genovese’s First Amendment right of free speech.

Although jurors reached agreement on the $1.1 million award for compensatory damages, they were unable to reach a unanimous decision on punitive damages, so deliberations are continuing.

According to court papers, Genovese was driving home in July, 2009 past the Gabreski Airport Air National Guard base in Suffolk County (Long Island) when she stopped her car to photograph a helicopter on display in front of the base. Genovese made the photograph from inside her car, intending to post the photo on a “Support Our Troops” website.

As she was preparing to drive away, a Southampton, New York police officer approached her and asked what she was doing. Genovese explained what she was photographing, tried to show the officer the images on her camera’s LCD, and then ended up giving the officer her camera card to protect her camera, which the officer was treating roughly, according to Genovese’s lawsuit.

At that point, the Southampton police officer ordered Genovese to remain where she was, and called the county sheriff’s department to report Genovese’s presence outside the base, “falsely and wrongly informing” the sheriff’s department that Genovese “posed a terrorist threat,” she said in her claim.

Authorities from the FBI, Homeland Security, the ANG base, and the local police and sheriff’s department rushed to the scene. Genovese was questioned on the roadside for “five or six hours.” She alleged that her car was searched without her consent, and because she had just come from a local shooting range, authorities found an AR 15 rifle, as well as a shotgun and ammunition, in her car. Southampton police seized the guns, which were legally registered, according to court papers.

According to the suit, Suffolk sheriff’s deputy Carlock said to Genovese, “You’re a right winger, aren’t you?” He and another unidentified officer proceeded to taunt Genovese, repeatedly referring to her as a “right winger” and “tea bagger” and allegedly threatening to arrest her for terrorism “to make an example of her to other ‘tea baggers.’”

After hours of questioning, federal authorities concluded that Genovese wasn’t a security threat. After they left the scene, however, an unidentified sheriff’s deputy handcuffed Genovese, and transported her to jail, where Carlock allegedly told her that although authorities “had nothing to charge her with,” they would “find something in order to teach all right wingers and tea baggers a lesson.”

She was charged later that night with “terrorism,” and arraigned the next day on criminal trespass charges. Bail was set at $50,000 because of sheriff’s “inflammatory accusations” that she was a terrorist and a flight risk, she alleges in her lawsuit.

Genovese spent four days in the county jail, until she was finally able to raise the money for her bail. While in jail, she alleges, deputies continued to taunt her, subject her to sleep deprivation, deny her medical care for a leg injury that became infected, and instigate alarmist media coverage by releasing to reporters false information about Genovese and the circumstances of her arrest.

The criminal trespass charges against Genovese were dismissed in November, 2009. She filed suit on July 29, 2010.

In her lawsuit, she alleged violation of her First Amendment right of free speech, as well as violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments rights of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. She also claimed she was subject to fear and terror, humiliation, degradation, physical pain and emotional distress.

In 2013, a federal judge dismissed Genovese’s claims against the town of Southampton and its police officers. The judge ruled that the Southampton police officer who originally stopped Genovese had probable cause to do so; that the officer didn’t use excessive force; and that Southampton police seized a gun in her car “under a lawful exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment” because it was in plain view insider her car. Therefore, the court said, Southampton police did not violate her constitutional rights.

The judge also dismissed false arrest claims against Suffolk County sheriffs, on the grounds that they acted on the “probable cause” determination of Southampton police. But the court declined to dismiss Genovese’s malicious prosecution claims against Carlock and the sheriff’s department, clearing the way for the trial, which began December 8 and lasted for three days.

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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.