Suffolk County Police Department Must Pay $200,000 For False Arrest of Video Journalist
On July 30, 2011, members of the Suffolk County Police Department were chasing two men, Ramon Rivera, 24, and Camilo Tatis, 33, around the tiny Long Island town of Bohemia. The men were eventually caught by police on Sycamore Street, and arrested on a variety of drug charges. Meanwhile, a press photographer and video journalist named Philip Datz showed up and started filming the aftermath of the chase. What happened next became the subject of a lengthy lawsuit, and, as the New York Civil Liberties Union announced today, a hefty settlement for the cameraman.
Screenshot via. A Suffolk County Police Sergeant approaches videographer Philip Datz to prevent him from filming on July 30, 2011.
Datz worked for Stringer News Service, which sells breaking news footage to other media outlets. He had his press credentials displayed and he was standing on a public sidewalk. And even if Datz hadn't been a reporter, it's still absolutely legal to film or photograph the police in public spaces, provided you're not interfering with police activities.
Datz wasn't. Just moments after he began filming, though, a sergeant with Suffolk County's Fifth Precinct crossed the street towards him, yelling "Go away!"
As the sergeant -- who has not been publicly identified -- continued shouting "Go away now!" Datz replied, "Where should I go?"
"Just go away," the sergeant replied. "I don't care where you go. Just go away. Go away... I want you to go away and not stand here and argue with me. Otherwise you're about to get locked up."
As Datz proceeded to his car, he told the sergeant he was calling Suffolk County PD's public information office.
"Call the commissioner, for all I care," the sergeant responded. "I've been doing this for 30 years. There's nothing you can hold over my head or anybody out there. Go away."
Datz did call the public information office, who told him he could film from a block away. He continued doing that, until the same angry mustachioed sergeant pulled up in his cruiser, made Datz put his camera down and arrested him. We know about this series of events because Datz captured video of the entire incident, right until the moment of his arrest:
Story continues on the next page.