Following the dismissal of charges today against a news cameraman who was unlawfully arrested after filming the aftermath of a car chase in Bohemia last month, the New York Civil Liberties Union is calling on the Suffolk County Police Department to ensure that its officers understand and respect people’s constitutional right to videotape police interactions with civilians in public spaces.
The NYCLU represented the cameraman, Phil Datz, who was charged with misdemeanor obstruction of governmental administration during the July 29 incident.
"We’re gratified that the district attorney’s office recognized that this was an unlawful arrest and quickly dropped the charges," said Amol Sinha, director of the NYCLU’s Suffolk County Chapter. "This bogus arrest should serve as an urgent call to action that the Police Department take tangible and meaningful steps to ensure all residents are afforded the rights of the Constitution."
The NYCLU today sent Police Commissioner Richard Dormer a letter requesting a meeting to discuss steps the Police Department can take to ensure that its officers respect people’s constitutional right to photograph and videotape in public. The NYCLU has heard from numerous media outlets that reporters, photographers, camera operators and members of the general public have had similar encounters with Suffolk County police officers in recent weeks and months.
"In our society, people have a clear right to use video cameras in public places without being harassed or arrested by police," Sinha said. "This right is especially important when it comes to documenting police interactions with community members. True justice has nothing to fear from citizen oversight. True justice embraces transparency."
Datz, a freelance news photographer, was standing on a public street with several other bystanders filming when a Suffolk County police sergeant approached him and demanded that he leave the scene. The same officer later arrested Datz, who had not interfered with the police in any manner. Datz was handcuffed and taken into custody. After his release, he posted video of the encounter on YouTube.