Cameraman's Suit Spurs Police Reform in NY
BROOKLYN (CN) - Suffolk County police settled a lawsuit with a journalist they arrested for filming a chase for $200,000 and a promise to train their force every year to respect the freedom of the press on public streets.
Cameraman Philip Datz was taping the aftermath of a police chase in Bohemia, Long Island in July 2011 when a sergeant ordered him to leave the scene.
Datz claimed he had been wearing his press credentials at the time and was standing next to other onlookers who were not asked to budge.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, who took up Datz's civil case, posted a video of his argument with Suffolk County Sgt. Michael Milton.
In the footage, Datz can be heard asking if he should call the public information office.
"You can call the commissioner for all I care," Milton responded. "You're going away. You understand, I've been doing this for 30 years. There is nothing you can hold over my head or anybody out there. Go away."
Datz later moved a block away, "at least 500 feet away from the police scene," according to his complaint.
Milton then drove up his car to him and arrested him for obstructing government administration, Datz said.
The Suffolk County District Attorney dropped the charge, and the police department's internal affair bureau faulted Milton for making a false arrest and violating its rules and procedures, the NYCLU said in a statement.
In April 2012, Datz sued Milton and Suffolk County for false arrest and other claims.
His lawyers with the National Press Photographers Association, the Manhattan-based firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, and the NYCLU fought the case for two years before resolving the case without a trial on Wednesday.
The settlement calls for the creation of a Police-Media Relations Committee with press and law enforcement panelists, a new set of procedures to resolve disputes and a video training program police must watch every year to respect First Amendment rights.
"This settlement is a victory for the First Amendment and for the public good," Datz said in a statement. "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."