In a settlement approved late Tuesday by the Suffolk County Legislature, the Suffolk County Police Department has agreed to annually train and test all police officers on the First Amendment right of the public and the media to observe, photograph and record police activity in public locations. The settlement comes in response to a lawsuit filed in 2012 on behalf of Philip Datz, a professional video journalist who was unlawfully arrested and detained by Suffolk County police in July 2011 while filming police activity on a public street in Bohemia, Long Island. The lawsuit was filed by the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) and the New York Civil Liberties Union. The settlement also requires the SCPD to pay Datz $200,000 and create a Police-Media Relations Committee to address problems between the press and the Police Department. After public outcry over Datz’s arrest, the SCPD also revised its rules and procedures to instruct officers that “members of the media cannot be restricted from entering and/or producing recorded media from areas that are open to the public, regardless of subject matter.” “This settlement is a victory for the First Amendment and for the public good,” Datz said. “When police arrest journalists just for doing their job, it jeopardizes everyone’s ability to stay informed about important news in their community. Journalists have a duty to cover what the police are doing, and this settlement strengthens the ability of journalists and the community to hold the police accountable for their actions as well as protecting the First Amendment rights of the public.” Datz was filming the aftermath of a police chase on July 29, 2011 when a Suffolk County police sergeant demanded he leave the scene. Though no police lines had been established, Datz moved a block away. The sergeant again approached him, and though Datz prominently displayed his press credentials, was standing in a location open to the public and did not interfere with the police in any manner, he was handcuffed, taken into custody and charged with misdemeanor obstruction of governmental administration. Police also seized his video camera and tape recording of the incident. Following his release and the return of his equipment and tape, Datz posted video of the encounter on YouTube (see video below). The Suffolk County District Attorney dropped the charge against Datz on Aug. 9, 2011. The Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau subsequently found that the sergeant made a false arrest and violated Department rules and procedures.
2019 Annual Report