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Some of the recent clashes between police and journalists involve photographers arrested while covering the news.
From the Summer 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 36.
By Nicholas Coates
The list of reporters being arrested both on and off duty continues to grow.
Freelance reporters, photographers and publishers have faced charges ranging from criminal trespassing to selling pictures while allegedly acting as a “public servant.”
Meanwhile, a freelance photographer in North Carolina filed suit in federal court against the Durham police department and two high-ranking officials, claiming that his civil rights have been repeatedly violated over the last 15 years.
Photographer arrested seven times sues police
A freelance photographer in Durham, N.C., has sued the city’s police chief and a captain in federal court for allegedly violating his civil rights on several occasions that go back as far as 1992.
Julian Harrison, 56, filed the suit in June claiming that while working as a journalist, he has been “harassed, assaulted, battered, unjustifiably arrested and falsely charged with crimes.”
The suit details seven separate occasions of Harrison’s arrest by police. All charges against him which included trespassing and interference with investigation charges were eventually dismissed.
Harrison said his latest spat with police came in November. He was covering a story where a Durham police captain had shot unarmed people in a Target parking lot who were allegedly stealing prescription drugs.
According to Michael Tadych, an attorney representing Harrison, Capt. Darrell Dowdy told Harrison he could not take pictures of the shooting’s witnesses, to which Harrison responded, “You are not my picture editor.”
Dowdy became angry, grabbed Harrison’s arm (which he says was previously injured in an assignment abroad), shoved him onto the hood of Harrison’s car and handcuffed him, Tadych said.
The police carried out their own investigation into the incidents and concluded that Dowdy’s dealings were “unbecoming [of] an officer” and violated the department’s press policies, according to the lawsuit. But, it added, he did not use excessive force.
Tadych said July 6 that the police department has yet to respond to the lawsuit.
Harrison is seeking actual and punitive damages from the city, Police Chief Steve Chalmers and Dowdy. Harrison is also looking for a promise that that he will not be harassed by the police any longer.
Journalists collecting soil samples charged with trespassing
A newspaper reporter collecting soil samples at a New Jersey school site closed because of pesticide contamination was arrested on June 2 and charged with misdemeanor trespassing.
Michael Gartland, 33, a reporter with The (Hackensack, N.J.) Record, was arrested along with Thomas Adamkiewicz, 62, a field manager for Aqua Pro-Tech Laboratories, a firm hired by the newspaper to test the soil, after they collected soil samples near one of the school’s soccer fields and the running track.
Newspaper photographer Tariq Zehawi, who was taking photographs with the two, was not arrested at the same time as Gartland and Adamkiewicz, but was later charged with trespassing in a complaint delivered by mail.
The police contend that the three went through police tape and barricades and should have known they were not allowed on the site. Gartland said the three were not trespassing because the school was public property, according to the arrest report, while the newspaper’s lawyers say there was no police line where they entered so they did not trespass.
The arraignment hearings for Gartland and Zehawi were postponed indefinitely on June 27 after a municipal court judge recused himself. When the arraignments take place, they will likely be in another town, lawyers for the paper said.
Gartland broke a story in May about heavily contaminated soil discovered at the school in Paramus, N.J. Gartland wrote that school district officials knew of the contamination at West Brook Middle School in January after environmental consultants tested the soil last year, but did not tell parents of the findings until May 23.
Gartland also reported that the contaminated soil sat uncovered in piles beside the school despite Environmental Protection Agency recommendations that unearthed soil should always be covered.
“How much risk the soil posed to the public is still a question to be answered,” Gartland said days after his arrest. “I think we felt an independent examination was in order.”
Photographer arrested taking pictures on Miami street
A freelance photographer and journalist faces two separate trials in August after being arrested for taking photos on a public street in Miami.
Carlos Miller was initially charged with disobeying police officers, obstruction of justice, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence following a February brush with authorities.
Some of the charges of disobeying officers and the obstruction of justice charge have been dropped, Miller said in July.
The criminal trial for those remaining charges is scheduled for Aug. 6, the same day a separate hearing in traffic court is scheduled for Miller’s charge of obstructing traffic.
“I am very confident I will win,” Miller said. “My story has stayed the same throughout. The cops’ stories have changed.”
The arresting officers said Miller was standing in the middle of a busy street obstructing traffic while he photographed their conversation with another individual, according to an arrest report. But Miller said he was standing in a construction zone when the police asked him stop taking pictures.
Miller was reporting a story for a local news Web site, www.category305.com, about the renovation of the street where he was arrested.
Journalist investigating police department arrested
Miami-Dade, Fla., police officers in February arrested a television journalist who was investigating allegations against the police department and its director, according to Darcie Lunsford, president of the South Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
According to an SPJ statement, the journalist, Michael Kirsch, believes he was assaulted and treated harshly without provocation during a traffic stop while with his family near his home and while he was not working.
The chapter has looked into the case and, in a letter to department Director Robert Parker, requested Parker conduct an internal review of how the officer responded once Kirsch stepped outside of his car and onto the road.
At the time, Kirsch was an investigative reporter at CBS affiliate WFOR-TV.
Last year, a local police union posted a “be on the lookout” advisory on its Web site with Kirsch’s photo, home address, birth date and driver’s license number. The advisory warned of an investigation Kirsch was supposedly conducting, shortly after his station aired another investigation showing that it was virtually impossible for a citizen to walk into a police station and walk out with a complaint form.
Kirsch was initially charged with three felonies, including assaulting a police officer, violently resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. The charges were subsequently reduced to a single misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest without violence.
Publisher refuses to leave closed meeting
A North Carolina newspaper publisher was arrested and charged in May with trespassing for refusing to leave a local airport authority meeting when board members voted to close the meeting to the public.
However, in July, the local district attorney dropped the second-degree misdemeanor trespassing charge.
Tom Boney, publisher of The Alamance News, a weekly newspaper in Graham, N.C., has been a longtime advocate of open meetings in the area.
In his latest standoff with authorities, Boney, 52, said he objected to leaving the airport authority meeting on his own because the board members refused to promise him that they would not talk about or vote on approving an $11 million loan for a land purchase or a corresponding budget increase.
Sheriff Terry Johnson arrived and arrested Boney because he remained on the premises after being told to leave, sheriff’s spokesman Randy Jones said.
Jones said Boney was not handcuffed and was escorted in the front seat of the patrol car.
“I thought I could force the issue faster by letting them arrest me,” Boney said. “I thought it would bring the issue to a head a lot sooner.”
Boney sued the Burlington City Council in 2000 on a similar closed meeting issue and was also sued by the City Council in 2002.
In the second case, the council sued Boney before a meeting took place, knowing that he planned to challenge its closure. A state appeals court held in 2004 that the city had no legal standing to file suit.
Photographer charged with felony for selling accident photos
Police charged a freelance photographer in Wharton, Texas, with a third-degree felony after he photographed a major car accident in January.
Photographer Gaston Elmer Cavender took pictures of a fatal car accident on Jan. 19 involving a police chief who eventually died from injuries sustained in the accident
Prosecutors accused Cavender of selling the pictures to newspapers while he was serving as a volunteer firefighter, thereby acting as a “public servant.”
Prosecutors charged Cavender with misusing official information, a felony that can be punished by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Cavender’s attorney, Richard Manske, has said his client was given an honorary badge and vest by the fire department but was not awarded any of the benefits, like a pension or a free supply of water, that volunteer firefighters regularly get.
Melissa Attias and Lauren Melcher contributed to this report.