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Photographer arrested over WTC incident asks for return of film

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  1. Newsgathering

    NMU         NEW YORK         Newsgathering         Jan 18, 2002    

Photographer arrested over WTC incident asks for return of film

  • Police charged a free-lancer with impersonating a firefighter and confiscated his cameras and 28 rolls of film, which the prosecutor has refused to return.

[EDITOR’S CLARIFICATION (Jan. 22, 2002): Stephen Ferry said he put on the firefighters’ gear to protect himself from fire and smoke. He also said that the toolbox was given to him by a civilian rescue worker, and that it was empty of firefighters’ tools when it was given to him.]

A free-lance photojournalist whose film was seized during the chaotic aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center is seeking the return of his film.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Micki Scherer will decide Feb. 13 whether Stephen Ferry is entitled to have the 28 rolls of confiscated film returned to him, said Ferry’s attorney, Jack Litman of Manhattan.

Ferry was on assignment for Time magazine when he was charged with several misdemeanors, including criminal impersonation, after firefighters found him wearing New York City Fire Department coveralls and a hard hat and carrying a firefighter’s toolbox on Sept. 11 at the attack site. On Sept. 13, he was charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument, a felony, after he showed an altered New York driver’s license to police as identification.

Ferry said he put on the firefighters’ equipment to protect himself and his cameras from smoke and dust. He had stored some of his cameras in the toolbox for protection.

“At the moment when I put on that firemen’s garb, I had no idea that the fire department had taken all those losses,” Ferry said, noting that he had no access to television or radio news broadcasts while he was rushing around ground zero immediately after the attack. “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have put the stuff on. Knowing that they’d lost lots of people, it’s pretty insensitive.”

As for the altered driver’s license, Ferry said he had lost his wallet and license while on assignment in Colombia. He had changed the expiration date on an old license to use as identification outside the country while he waited for a replacement license from the New York Division of Motor Vehicles, he said.

When police officers at ground zero asked to see his identification on Sept. 13, he showed the altered license and immediately told them it was “no good,” according to police documents.

Ferry was jailed for four days. He has rejected a plea bargain that would require him to plead guilty to the felony in return for probation and no return of the photos.

Assistant District Attorney William Beesch has argued in court documents that Ferry should not be allowed to profit financially or professionally from photographs that were taken while committing a crime. Ferry has offered to donate any money he makes from publication of the photographs to a 9/11 fund.

“He’s not interested in personal glory or financial compensation,” said Litman, his attorney. “He simply wants these important photographs taken immediately after the disaster added to the historical record.”

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

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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