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

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