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Judge refuses to release confiscated film to photojournalist

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    NMU         NEW YORK         Newsgathering         Feb 15, 2002    

Judge refuses to release confiscated film to photojournalist

  • Free-lancer who was arrested for impersonating a firefighter at ground zero argued that the prosecution’s refusal to return 28 rolls of film was an unconstitutional prior restraint.

A Manhattan trial judge has denied a free-lance photojournalist’s request for the return of film that was seized when the photographer was arrested during the chaotic aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Ruling that photojournalist Stephen Ferry, “as a member of the press, has no greater rights to discovery than any other criminal defendant,” New York Supreme Court Judge Micki A. Scherer refused on Feb. 13 to order prosecutors to release 28 rolls of film taken from Ferry.

Ferry had argued that the prosecution’s refusal to return the film was an unconstitutional prior restraint. Scherer ruled that because the photographs were not the subject of the criminal charges against Ferry and were seized as arrest evidence, “the First Amendment has not been implicated.”

Ferry was on assignment for Time magazine when he was arrested Sept. 11 at the attack site and charged with several misdemeanors, including criminal impersonation for wearing a hard hat, coveralls, work boots and carrying a tool box, all belonging to the New York City Fire Department. Ferry said he put on the gear to protect himself from fire and smoke. He said a civilian rescue worker gave him the toolbox, which was empty, and he used it to protect his cameras.

On Sept. 13, he was arrested while leaving ground zero and charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument, a felony, after he showed an altered New York driver’s license to police as identification.

Police seized his cameras and film. Ferry said the cameras have been returned to him.

The judge’s order says Ferry will continue to have access to the photographs in the district attorney’s office to prepare his defense.

(New York v. Ferry; Media counsel: Jack Litman, New York City) MD

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