Madison Ruppert, Contributor
Professional photojournalist Philip Datz has had a long and tumultuous history with the Suffolk County Police Department and finally Datz has moved to file a lawsuit against the County of Suffolk and Sergeant Michael Milton in the United States District Court, Eastern District, New York.
This is part of a much larger and thoroughly troubling trend of Americans being beaten, arrested and harassed for exercising their right to legally film police, which is just part of the growing American police state and the general erosion of our most essential liberties.
The lawsuit surrounds an incident on July 29, 2011, which was caught on film and has gained a considerable amount of notoriety for the clearly absurd actions of Sergeant Milton.
Watch the events below:
This event cannot be considered in isolation, because as Carlos Miller aptly points out, there were actually numerous incidents which preceded the above events of last year.
Of course, in reality, press credentials are not legally required to film police in the course of their public duties in a public place from a distance while not being disruptive.
In the above video, we see Sergeant Milton forcibly grab Datz’s camera and put it on the ground, after which Datz was arrested.
Both the Suffolk County police commissioner and the Suffolk County State Attorney’s Office declared that the arrest was unlawful and Datz was not charged.
However, Datz continued to be harassed by the Suffolk County Police Department. This continued even after the department told the National Press Photographers Association that they were bringing in instructors from the FBI Academy to retrain their officers in the basics of Constitutional law and the rights of journalists.
According to the complaint filed on Datz’s behalf by his attorneys Robert Balin, Samuel Bayard, Alison Schary of Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, and Corey Stoughton of the New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation on April 11, 2012 (which you can read in full below), there were no less than six separate incidents since his unlawful arrest.
Also joining Datz in his quest for justice is the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), which now uses Datz’s infamous video when they train police on how not to deal with videographers and photojournalists.
“Suffolk County police officers have a pattern of unlawfully interfering with the recording of police activity conducted in public view,” according to the NPPA. “As a journalist, Mr. Datz has a responsibility to cover police activity in public places. The police department has a constitutional obligation to respect his First Amendment to perform this important public service.”
“It is disappointing that the number of these incidents seems to be increasing, necessitating legal action in this case,” said NPPA president Sean D. Elliot. “I’m also pleased that we are able to step-up and help defend our members when their rights are so egregiously infringed. It is my hope that this case can provide an incentive for more law enforcement agencies to take steps to ensure such incidents do not continue.”
“[Sergeant] Milton has become the poster child of things they [police officers] don’t want to do,” Mickey Osterreicher, the general counsel of the NPPA, said.
“I watch the officers’ reactions and they sit there with their mouths open and can’t believe he is saying those things. Not just saying those things but believing those things,” Osterreicher added.
Osterreicher regularly travels to police departments across the United States to teach police officers on the rights photographers have.
One of the most important parts of the lawsuit is that it is seeking “an injunctive relief to prevent police from keeping the press further back than the general public,” according to Osterreicher.
If their efforts prove successful, this would mean that the Suffolk County Police Department would have to face contempt of court charges if they continued to harass photographers and others exercising their Constitutional rights.
Hopefully Datz can ride the recent successes in this field to a victory which will make Suffolk County safer for those who are just doing their job or trying to hold police accountable.
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This article first appeared at End the Lie.