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.