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Photographer ticketed by state trooper

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Photographer ticketed by state trooper

  • A western Massachusetts journalist was given a driving citation after photographing a state trooper’s illegally parked cruiser; trooper then confiscated the photo assignment form.

Oct. 6, 2003 — Moments after a photographer from The (Springfield) Republican took pictures of a police cruiser blocking a handicap zone last week, a Springfield state trooper issued him a traffic citation and confiscated the assignment form.

Photographer David M. Molnar said the trooper, Patrick F. Moynihan, followed him for a quarter mile on Sept. 25 before pulling him over and citing him for failure to use a directional blinker. Moynihan, whose car was illegally parked in front of a Registry of Motor Vehicles office, then demanded to know why Molnar had photographed his vehicle, confiscated the assignment form and made an ambiguous threat against the newspaper, according to Molnar’s two-page statement he gave to his editors.

Molnar had been sent to the registry to investigate a complaint from a reader who said a police cruiser was illegally parked. The Republican had previously published a photo of a police cruiser parked illegally on a suburban street, thanks to a separate tip from a reader.

According to Republican Executive Editor Wayne E. Phaneuf, what most troubled him about Moynihan’s strong-arm tactics was the confiscation of the assignment form. That document, Phaneuf said, could have contained confidential information about sources, which is protected by the First Amendment.

“I’ve been at this for 34 years and I know what could be on the sheet,” said Phaneuf. “Many, many times like that you’re going to have a confidential source for a photographer to meet, or information that involves the news process . . . the kinds of things we want to protect all the time.”

No such information was on the form, which was returned to the newspaper’s office Sept. 30.

A state police internal affairs unit is currently investigating the incident. Phaneuf said he was assured by internal affairs that there would be no retaliation against the newspaper, as Moynihan allegedly threatened.

Moynihan remains on active duty.

VR


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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