Musumeci v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Challenging government regulation restricting photography on federal property)

S.D.N.Y., Index No. 10 CIV 3370 (direct)

This lawsuit challenges a government regulation that unconstitutionally restricts photography on federal property, including public plazas and sidewalks.

The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on April 22, 2010 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of a Libertarian activist who was unlawfully arrested by federal officers after exercising his First Amendment right to take photographs and digital videos in a public plaza outside of a federal building in lower Manhattan. The lawsuit seeks a court order barring federal officials from harassing or arresting people engaged in noncommercial photography while standing in outdoor public areas near federal buildings.

The complaint names the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Protective Service, Inspector Clifford Barnes of the Federal Protective Service and an unnamed federal officer as defendants.

Plaintiff Antonio Musumeci was arrested on Nov. 9, 2009 after recording with a hand-held video camera a protestor in a public plaza outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse in Manhattan.

Musumeci, a 29-year-old resident of Edgewater, N.J. and member of the Manhattan Libertarian Party, was recording an interview in front of the courthouse steps with Julian Heicklen, a libertarian activist who was advocating for jury nullification. They were confronted by Inspector Barnes, who arrested Heicklen.

Musumeci, a software developer for an investment bank, stepped backward and recorded the arrest. Barnes told Musumeci he had violated a federal regulation governing photography and arrested him. Barnes and a second federal agent grabbed Musumeci by the arms and forced him to the pavement as they confiscated the video card from his camera. After being arrested, Musumeci was detained for about 20 minutes and issued a ticket for violating the photography regulation. That charge was later dismissed.

A week later, Musumeci was harassed and threatened with arrest after trying again to record Heicklen at the federal courthouse. Again this past Monday he was harassed by federal officers at the courthouse.

On Oct. 13, 2010, a federal judge signed a settlement in which the federal government agreed that no federal statutes or regulations bar photography of federal courthouses from publicly accessible property. It agreed to issue a nationwide directive to members of the Federal Protective Service (the agency responsible for all government buildings) instructing them about the rights of photographers. Since Musumeci had been charged with violating a regulation that applied to all federal property, not just courthouses, the NYCLU hold the position that the settlement in effect covers photography og all federal buildings.

In addition to NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, New York University Civil Rights Clinic students Michael Schachter and David Wake are working on the case.

Status: 
Closed