Police arrest cameraman, seize tape
FLORIDA — Police arrested a television cameraman and seized his camera and tape after he photographed police officers at a Fourth of July disturbance in Jacksonville during which “unruly teen-agers” were throwing rocks at cars.
Three days later, the state attorney announced that the arrest and seizure were inappropriate and that the cameraman would not be prosecuted for disobeying a police officer.
Around midnight on July 4, after the fireworks display in downtown Jacksonville, police were sent to disperse a crowd they estimated at about 2,500, including “unruly teen-agers” who were throwing rocks at cars, said Nancy Shafran, news director of WJXT-TV, a CBS affiliate. Fights broke out, people were robbed and vehicles were burglarized, the police reports said.
Anthony Reed, a cameraman for WJXT-TV, was headed back to the station to complete his last day before leaving for a sister station in Houston, Shafran said.
When Reed saw police cars rushing downtown he followed them, Shafran said.
Reed, standing on a public sidewalk, began taping six police officers “standing around with their arms folded, chatting,” said August Quesada, Reed’s attorney. One of the officers approached Reed.
Reed’s camera, still rolling, recorded the dialogue.
“Sir,” the officer said, “you’re going to be arrested if you don’t cut your camera off. Cut your camera off.”
Reed asked: “Why do I have to cut off my camera?”
The officer told Reed he was “part of the problem” and was being arrested for “disobeying and resisting a police officer.”
Reed, however, told the officer: “you’ve got my camera hand.”
Reed could not turn it off because the officer was holding the hand he used to operate the camera, Shafran said.
The officer then told Reed he could not violate a police order, and another officer read Reed his rights.
Police charged Reed with “resisting a police officer,” a misdemeanor. They considered charging him with “inciting to riot,” a felony, but said they would “give him a break,” Quesada said.
The arrest report said when Reed turned his camera and lights on, it “immediately impacted the crowd gathered, and incited elements of an already volatile crowd.”
Police took Reed to the station, but kept him in a car outside for two hours before taking him inside. He was not released until 6:08 a.m., Quesada said.
Police initially confiscated Reed’s camera and tape, preventing Reed from taping much of the action, Shafran said. They gave the camera back about an hour later, but they wanted to keep the tape as evidence.
Around 3 a.m. WJXT decided to make a copy of the tape for police so they could get the tape back, Shafran said.
The station contends the police wrongfully confiscated the tape, Quesada said.
In a statement three days later, State Attorney Harry L. Shorstein announced that criminal charges would not be brought against Reed.
“An order to ‘turn off a camera’ constitutes a prior restraint” and is “constitutionally inappropriate,” Shorstein wrote.
Quesada called the statement “a warning to cops here to watch what they’re doing.”
(Media Counsel: August Quesada, Jacksonville)