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NYCLU Sues NYPD For Harassing And Detaining Photographers

The New York Civil Liberties Union today expanded a federal lawsuit to challenge the New York City Police Department’s treatment of photographers and filmmakers. In the amended complaint filed this morning in United States District Court in Manhattan, the NYCLU alleged that NYPD officers are unlawfully detaining photographers and threatening them with arrest if they will not destroy their images or show them to police officers.

Police officials have informed the NYCLU that reports about photographers are the most common type of complaint called into the Department’s terrorism hotline. Today’s filing alleges that, notwithstanding the frequency of NYPD photography investigations, the Department has no policies, procedures, or training for investigating such reports. As a result, police officers are violating the First Amendment rights of photographers and filmmakers.

“Photography is fully protected by the First Amendment, and police investigations into photographers must be sensitive to that,” NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said. “While investigations may be appropriate in certain cases, people cannot be arrested for taking pictures, and police officers cannot coerce them into destroying images. The NYPD should assure it has reasonable policies and that officers are properly trained to handle these special investigations.”

Today’s filing expands on a lawsuit that the NYCLU filed in January 2006 on behalf of Rakesh Sharma, a noted documentary filmmaker who had been detained for several hours by NYPD officers last year after filming taxi cabs from a midtown sidewalk. After filing the case, the NYCLU learned that the NYPD was conducting a large number of photography investigations and had no policies, procedures, or training for such investigations.

Also serving as counsel on the case are Sam Munger and Elizabeth Owen, two NYU Law School students who have been working on photography issues for the NYCLU.

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